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Coalition Links Oil Spill Remembrance to Gulf Coast Recovery Plan

By Rhonda Miller | Published 21 Apr 2011 01:50pm | comments
Many in Mississippi's Vietnamese community are fishermen hard hit by the oil spill. They took their concerns to a Back Bay dock in Biloxi as part of an oil spill memorial.

One year after the BP oil spill, a coalition of community groups is looking toward the future with a proposal for long-term recovery of the Gulf. MPB’s Rhonda Miller reports the coalition remembered the victims of the Deepwater Horizon explosion on Wednesday.

"We’re gathered here today to mark the one-year memorial of this tragic disaster and let our fellow citizens and leaders know the oil is still here and so are we."

They didn’t want to call it the anniversary of the oil spill. That sounds too much like a celebration. So they called the event on the Biloxi dock a memorial - but it was really more of a rally for the future of the Gulf.

The message is about remembering the lives lost or interrupted by the oil spill and turning that memory into action.

"There are thousands of folks all across the Gulf Coast region who are experiencing serious respiratory illnesses and skin disorders," said Thao Vu, a housing counselor for Mercy Housing and Human Development in Gulfport. She often represents the Vietnamese community. Vu said those who are ill are asking for medical attention now.

" We need to create some kind of public health forum and institute a system in place where they can get proper diagnosis, treatment and long-term monitoring," Vu said.

The backdrop for the memorial was shrimp boats and Vietnamese fisherman silently holding signs that read “We need help now” or “Shrimping is my livelihood” or “Restore our Gulf”.

The groups represent environmental and human rights concerns, and include The Mississippi Sierra Club, Gulf Restoration Network and Asian Americans for Change. They agree on many issues, including the need to completely restore the waters, the marine life, and the livelihoods and health of people affected by the oil spill.

Thao Vu said official reports that the Gulf is returning to normal are exaggerated.

"This whole BP oil disaster is not over," Vu said. "The Gulf Coast has not recovered, individuals, families and communities are still suffering, particularly those who are in the fishing industry. Their livelihoods have come to a standstill."

Raleigh Hoke is the Mississippi organizer for Gulf Restoration Network, an environmental group working in five states.

“The bottom line is that we don’t know how this BP drilling disaster is going impact the Gulf Coast in the long-term. Here on the Mississippi Gulf Coast we’re seeing sea turtles and dolphins wash up on the shore," Hoke said. "It’s going to take a long time for the science to show what the ultimate impacts are.”

Terese Collins, President of Gulf Islands Conservancy, says the oil spill impact isn’t over because evidence keeps washing up on shore.

"We’re still getting weathered oil and tar in Hancock County. Harrison County’s still being cleaned up. Jackson County’s still being cleaned up," Collins said. "We’re having dead dolphins and mammals and turtles wash up on the beach, so how can you say it’s safe?

The coalition released a proposal called "Gulf Future: An Action Plan for a Healthy Gulf." The plan encourages citizens to call their state and federal representatives about issues of concern. One of the coalition’s recommendations is about fines that will be levied for violations of the Clean Water Act. Collins says citizen involvement can help get the funds to the Gulf Coast.

"There are several plans of action. One is to support the legislation that’s being introduced in Congress right now. And ask your senators and representatives to back that legislation," Collins said. "It’s to get 80 percent of the oil spill fine dedicated to the Gulf for restoring the damage done."

The proposed plan includes a request for more transparency in reporting on damage to the environment. It suggests a public clearinghouse of environmental data with information from agencies, universities and community groups.

The plan also calls for affordable and accessible health care at the local level provided by medical professionals who understand chemical exposure illnesses. The Gulf Future plan is supported by more than 30 groups in five Gulf Coast states.

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Many in Mississippi's Vietnamese community are fishermen hard hit by the oil spill. They took their concerns to a Back Bay dock in Biloxi as part of an oil spill memorial.


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