Visit to Coastal Alabama and Mississippi

In the last post, I highlighted some of my experience from Navarre Beach, Florida the week of January 10, 2011.  On Saturday, Jan. 15th, I had the opportunity to revisit 2 of the families that we interviewed in our documentary last August.

My first stop was in Coden, Alabama to visit with Lori and Dennis Bosarge. Lori is an outspoken critic of the way the government and BP has handled the cleanup in coastal Alabama, and with the use of chemical dispersants in particular. Lori’s artwork in her yard depicting the impacts of the cleanup was what drew us to her originally, and these same pieces are still on display out front.

Brandon, Lori and Dennis in Coden, AL
Lori described some recent health concerns that she has been dealing with in the past few weeks.  She has been having some adverse reactions to something in her environment, but she has been unable to isolate what is really going on.  Understandably, she is concerned that the use of toxic dispersants in the cleanup very close to her home could have contributed to the problem.  Lori went on to tell me about the process of trying to find a doctor in the area that is conducting blood testing for the compounds involved in the cleanup that might shed light on the situation.  She had not been successful in locating one at the time we spoke.

Lori is still concerned with the long-term impact on public health and the fishery along the coast of Alabama.  Her and Dennis live less than a mile from where the local cleanup operation was stationed in Portersville Bay and she has seen too much to simply stay silent and hope things are going to be ok.  We took a ride over to the Bay where our team visited in August 2010, but unlike what we saw last Summer (boat washing stations, large white chemical containers, and fuel tanks lining the docks), there is very little visual evidence of the cleanup operation currently.

Coincidentally, later that afternoon, the community had a meeting at the Coastal Response Center to discuss the oil spill and ongoing Hurricane Katrina impacts.  Outside of the coast, the country may have moved on, but in the bayou, the legacy of these disasters is fresh in the minds of local citizens.  I had to leave before the meeting began, but spoke briefly with several of the community leaders that shared Lori’s concern and had a general distrust that everything is fine and the oil spill has been effectively cleaned up.  I was also given a stack of books by Riki OttThe Sound Truth & Corprate Myth$.  Riki is an Exxon Valdez survivor and marine toxicologist that visited the Gulf Coast during the spill.  She gave several cases of books to the community, and Lori helps distribute them to people who are willing to listen.

After leaving Coden, I headed over to Pearlington, MS to visit with Daryl Arnold and his family. Daryl has been in the area all his life and despite his house being totally destroyed by Katrina, he has committed to staying in Pearlington. I wrote about his resilience in a previous post, and true to form, Daryl gave me another tour of the new home he is building on the site of the one that was destroyed 5 1/2 years ago. It towers above the camping trailer where he continues to live with his mother and girlfriend, and his new cat, which took quite a liking to me when I arrived.

When I asked about the oil spill, he described the somewhat chaotic process that he experienced when he filed his claim.  An attorney from outside the area came to the area and essentially rounded up hundreds of people in town to get them to file their claims.  After a couple of tries, Daryl finally managed to beat the rush at the meetings and got his claim filed.  He’s waiting to hear the results of the process, but is optimistic about the outcome. Otherwise, Daryl’s primary focus is on finishing the construction of the new house.

Before leaving, Daryl’s mother Betty handed me a copy of a book that was written by a woman who spent several formative years of her life in Pearlington – Mama Nettie’s Time to Love by Gail C. Fusco. In the book’s introduction, the author chronicles what life was like growing up in the area as well as her return to the area seeing the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina and how it affected life in this small town. She goes on to account the story of how Daryl had pulled his mother from the rising flood waters out through the window of the house and into his boat where they rode out the storm. It really is a remarkable story of survival against all odds that is still hard to fathom.

This very brief trip across the coast provided me with an opportunity to meaningfully reconnect with the people of the Gulf Coast.  I continue to look for additional opportunities to visit the area and share stories of those most impacted. Later today, I travel to Athens, Ga. to attend the UGA Georgia Sea Grant Oil Spill Symposium, which includes discussions by multiple scientists, writers, and community leaders.  The Keynote speaker is Sylvia Earle, National Geographic Explorer-in Residence and former chief scientist for NOAA.  I will post updates from the Symposium on Twitter and her on the blog as info becomes available.  Thank you for allowing me to share my experiences with you here.

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01 2011