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Two Years After the Oil Spill, Mississippi Gulf Coast Sees Restoration and Readjustment

By Rhonda Miller | Published 13 Apr 2012 03:36pm | comments
A $5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor pays for retraining for Mississippi residents affected by the oil spill. One of the retraining programs is in welding at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College in Gulfport.

Two years after the nation’s worst oil spill, some say Mississippi beaches and businesses are finally casting off the oil-soaked image and returning to normal.  But as MPB’s Rhonda Miller reports, others are still struggling to rebuild their lives and find a “new normal.”

"How do you like welding?" "Yeah, that’s the job I hope in the future I can learn from here, but I still want to come back to shrimp."

That’s 42-year-old David Pham of D’Iberville, who admits he would like to go back to shrimping someday. Now, he’s in a welding program at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College.  It’s a retraining program for people whose jobs were affected by the BP oil spill, and many of them are Vietnamese fishermen.  Pham says it’s not easy to leave a lifestyle passed down through generations.

"Did you like shrimping?" "Yeah, I love shrimping. That’s my  life…"

The retraining is paid for by a $5 million emergency grant from the U.S. Department of Labor. The grant is scheduled to end in June, but Assistant Secretary of the Department of Labor Jane Oates says it could be extended because Mississippi has $3 million left. 

"There could be people out there who kind of waited it out and thought they could go back to fishing. But for some reason, now they’re thinking maybe they don’t want to roll the dice and continue to fish again, so they may be willing to come in for training now."

The retraining grant is managed by Asian Americans for Change and based at the WIN job center in Biloxi. The program is for anyone affected by the oil spill. But Case Manager Tuan Dang says he’s not surprised it’s many fishermen who are still trying to put their lives back together.

"Well, people are still confused, because they hear different things. Well, I’m a fisherman myself, and I can see there is a change, there is a big change.  But everybody else, especially those saying that  it’s nice and clean and seafood is safe and everything, but I’m out there, there is a big change in seafood."

It’s not just seafood, but hotels, restaurants and the whole tourism industry that’s still in recovery mode from a string of disasters.

"2010 was going to be, in our estimation, a breakout year recovery from Katrina. But then what happened is, April 20th we had that terrible oil spill."

That’s Bob Bennett, owner of the Edgewater Inn in Biloxi and president of the Mississippi Hotel and Lodging Association.

"We are coming back with things to do. But most of the basics are back. The basic good restaurants are back. There are a few new restaurants on the beach. So we’re getting ready for a busy, busy summer, we hope."

"Our hotels and rentals have special deals for the whole family...."

There’s proof an advertising campaign is bringing in tourists from across the country.  

"...with the world's best sand. So come on down to Mississippi..."

John West and his wife, Terri, drove down from Wisconsin and stopped at the Biloxi Visitors Center.

"The advertising we have at home is a friendly battle between Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. It’s all about we’re open for business, come visit us, we’ve got better food, we’ve got better entertainment.  It’s sponsored by BP, so BP is the one letting everybody know the clean-up is done and the Gulf is open for business."

In Gulfport, BP spokesman Ray Melick says the energy company has spent $14 billion on oil spill clean-up in Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana.  He says that’s in addition to $8 billion paid in claims and the recent $7 billion court settlement.

"So I think there’s been a significant effort by BP to do exactly what we said, get in here and respond to the situation and work toward restoring the health the Gulf, both economically and ecologically and tourism and everything else."

BP has been cleaning almost 300 miles of Mississippi shoreline. That includes going into marshes and all around the barrier islands. Melick says nearly 200 of those miles are done, and BP is continuing to patrol them and do clean-up whenever necessary.

"Our work here is not done. I think we’ve done a lot of good work. I think we continue to do some good work, and I think, hopefully, the communities of the coast will continue to benefit from BP’s presence."

BP will be involved in restoring the Mississippi Gulf Coast for years to come.

Images

A $5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor pays for retraining for Mississippi residents affected by the oil spill. One of the retraining programs is in welding at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College in Gulfport.


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