Coastal businessmen fear dire consequences from oil leak

By Mike McDaniel - bio | email | Twitter

SHIP ISLAND, MS (WDAM) - About 100 miles from Ship Island is where the oil leak is happening. Anywhere from 10-30 miles from the island is where the oil has already reached, and as it creeps closer the threat to the Mississippi Gulf Coast increases.

"We're definitely concerned, we're preparing for it," said Lewis Skirmetta, who operates a business taking people out to Ship Island, a small patch of land off the coast of Mississippi.

On Tuesday, all chairs and umbrellas were put away, and the beaches didn't see quite as much foot traffic.

"We're just standing by waiting from the National Park Service to find out exactly what's going to happen and hopefully they won't close the island, but, you know, I pray they won't but I think it's inevitable," said Skirmetta.

Aboard the boat out to Ship Island was a group of folks concerned about how the rest of the coast could be impacted, like Louie Miller, director of Mississippi's Sierra Club.

"We have an economy that is dependent on tourism here. We have a casino economy on this coast that's dependent on a clean environment," said Miller.

Miller criticizes the local and federal government for not acting with as much concern as the folks who live along the coast. A lone ship was out placing a boom along the western part of the island Tuesday, but for Miller it's just not enough.

"We need 25 of those boats, you know? We're not going to do anything at the rate that they're going now," he added.

Congressman Gene Taylor weighed in on the spill with a statement urging people not to panic saying, "I want people to know that this is not Hurricane Katrina; this is not Armageddon. Yes it's bad out there, but it's not on our shore, and the oil is tending to break up the farther you get from the source, which is a good thing."

But the statement didn't ease all concerns.

Miller says, "I hope Gene Taylor is right and I hope I'm wrong. I pray Gene Taylor is right and I'm wrong, but the facts don't support that. We have an oil slick the size of Ohio that's floating off this coast line as we speak."

"It's toxic oil," said Casey Demoss Roberts, with the Gulf Restoration Network. He points to the Exxon Valdez oil spill off the Alaskan coast in 1989.

Miller said, "This event is a game changer in my opinion about what's going on with the acceptable risks of oil and gas drilling off of our coast line, or oil drilling, we'll leave it at that."

Miller added impacts are already being felt along the coast.

"That is a ripple effect for the seafood restaurants, for the gas stations. You know, call the roll of how tourism rules in this economy, not to mention the shrimpers and the people who depend on this environment and this ocean for a livelihood. Those people right now are looking at dire environmental consequences."

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