On June 26th Melanie Campbell, Executive Director and CEO of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, Inc. (NCBCP) joined former New Orleans' mayor and current National Urban League President and CEO Marc H. Morial; Nolan V. Rollins, President and CEO of the Urban League of Greater New Orleans; Vincent Sylvain, State Coordinator, Louisiana Unity Coalition, NCBCP and others on a fact-finding mission of Louisiana's coastal parishes along Barataria Bay to survey the damage caused by the BP oil disaster.
Campbell said "my worst fears are confirmed, after listening to the residents talk about their experiences and BP's response to their needs, the barriers they are encountering are not unlike 5-years ago; some of the pressing issues includes equity in damage assessments, concerns about maintaining affordable housing, employment and business opportunities, and mental/physical health issues which tops the list."
Following an early morning briefing presented by representatives from BP, the Coast Guard, and the federal officials; the group departed out of Myrtle Grove Marina in Plaquemines Parish and headed to Port Sulfur and near Grand Isle for a firsthand view of the devastation.
Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser who has been an outspoken critic of BP and parts of the recovery efforts joined Morial and the party off-shore for the return trip to the dock. Nungesser impressed upon the group the need to expedite the building of sand berms to block the flow of oil into the marches and wetlands in southeastern Louisiana. While federal authorities have approved the building of the berms, they later issued a temporary stop order to the $360 million project. Nungesser also acknowledge the need to get more local fishermen involved in the clean-up effort.
However Nungesser did praise the Louisiana National Guard for their efforts in finishing an 8.2-mile barrier known as a tiger dam on Grand Isle's beach to fight the oil spill before it reaches inland. Earlier that morning while waiting to address another group, Congressman Joseph Cao (R-New Orleans) exchanged unscheduled greetings with Morial and the party and also expressed the needs for the sand berms as well as singing the praises of the Louisiana National Guard.
At the invitation of Byron Encalade, President of the Louisiana Oystermen's Association, who had requested the trip of Morial, the group met with African American fishermen, workers, and small business owners at the St. Thomas Catholic Church in East Pointe a la Hache to discuss the impact caused by the Deepwater Horizon incident in the Gulf of Mexico.
After that 2:00 p.m. community meeting, Campbell said "this incident while different from Katrina, gives me a sense of déjà vu. On the first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina our women's initiative, Black Women's Roundtable, hosted a seven-city Gulf Coast Hear Me Now Listening Bus Tour of regions hit by hurricanes Katrina and Rita which were designed to learn how women directly impacted by the storms were surviving after enduring the life-altering affects of Katrina and Rita.
"That experience taught us that the storms exacerbated an already fragile social and economic existence of many African American women and their families in the Gulf Coast region in three of the most economically depressed states in the nation — Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi. I have grave concerns that many of these same families are still recovering from those conditions, and to add this new disaster to the menu will make recovery even more challenging."
Morial had previously expressed concerns about the long-term effects, particular on that of the minority community. "The livelihoods, culture and community of the coastal parishes have been devastated," Morial said. "Our plan was to assess and evaluate the situation and make recommendations to begin to rebuild the region. More than a quarter of the coastal residents whose livelihoods have been affected by the disaster are people of color. In the midst of a recession that already is disproportionally affecting minority communities; we cannot afford to neglect those who are teetering on the brink of economic devastation."
Morial said that he sees both "good signs and areas of concern." Not unlike other disasters, the people of the Gulf region are working hard to rebuild their lives, but there are certainly aspect of the response on the part of both BP and the government which "needs improvements."
He pointed out that there is a need to speed up the distribution of funds to the families directly impacted so they may be better able to alleviate immediate financial concerns while more long term solutions are developed. He praised President Barack Obama for his selection of Kenneth Feinberg as administrator of the $20 billion claims fund created by BP. "The president should be given a lot of kudos and credit" for putting the process in place, Morial said.
Morial and Campbell committed to use their collective voices and their access to national lawmakers and others to call for a comprehensive plan to help restore the Gulf Course while assuring that safety is a paramount component of that plan. They support a Bill of Rights for Gulf Coast which accomplishes three goals:
- Establish a victim's compensation fund.
- Initiate a comprehensive plan to rebuild coastal Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.
- Provide stronger oversight and best practices to ensure safety of all offshore oil and gas drilling.
NCBCP is a non-profit, nonpartisan civic engagement organization, based in Washington, D.C. For thirty-two (32) years, the NCBCP, through its 80 member organizations, 12 state and local affiliates, and strategic partners, has served as an effective convener and facilitator at the local, state and national levels of efforts to address the disenfranchisement of African Americans and other marginalized communities through civic engagement.
The National Urban League is a historic civil rights organization dedicated to economic empowerment in order to elevate the standard of living in historically underserved urban communities.
Vincent Sylvain is publisher of The New Orleans Agenda.com, the leading local internet alternative for information on News, Arts, Culture & Entertainment in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast Region.
Photos by Vincent Sylvain, New Orleans Agenda.
Read more stories from The New Orleans Agenda »