La. Locals Worry Coast Guard Will LeaveToo Soon

Ret. Adm. Thad Allen met Friday with Louisiana's parish presidents to discuss clean-up efforts on the state's coastline. Some local officials are suspicious of the government's claim that most of the oil that leaked in the BP oil spill has been cleaned up or broken down by dispersants. They don't want the Coast Guard to remove any equipment until they're satisfied the job is complete.

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Federal officials say BP must finish its relief well before they'll officially pronounce the oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico dead. Officials in Louisiana are glad to hear that engineers are closer than ever to permanently plugging the leak, but as NPR's Thomas Pierce reports from New Orleans, they're not breathing a sigh of relief yet.

THOMAS PIERCE: The well may be plugged and surface oil might be harder to find, but Governor Bobby Jindal and local officials certainly do not believe that the worst oil disaster in American history is at an end.

Yesterday, they met with a BP vice president and retired Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, who's heading up the federal government's response to the spill. They came together behind closed doors for the second time in a month to hash out plans for what happens after the leak is sealed.

Governor Jindal called the meeting contentious, but productive.

Governor BOBBY JINDAL (Louisiana): One of the things we continue to say to Admiral Allen and the folks from the Department of Homeland Security is this is a marathon for us, we're going to need the federal government's help to keep BP accountable. It is way too early for anybody to declare mission accomplished.

PIERCE: The governor and the state's coastal parish presidents fear that with the blown out well sealed shut, BP and the government might try to leave too soon.

They want guarantees that barges and booms and oil skimmers that have been used to protect the coast will remain in place, at least until the end of hurricane season. They want the amount of submerged oil, and not just the surface oil, to be used as a benchmark for success. But foremost, says Jindal, they want to be involved.

Gov. JINDAL: The bottom line that we're trying to communicate is that the people that live in these coastal areas know these coastal areas better than anybody else. They are passionate about defending their areas, their coastal wetlands and their parishes from this oil. They want to be included in this process.

PIERCE: The Coast Guard has agreed to spend the next seven days meeting with individual parish presidents to craft more specific response plans. The Coast Guard also agreed that during that time it won't remove any of the oil fighting gear.

That was of particular concern to St. Tammany Parish President Kevin Davis, who defied the Coast Guard by refusing to rescind an executive order to keep clean up equipment from leaving the parish.

Mr. KEVIN DAVIS (President, St. Tammany Parish): I guess I have seven days reprieve of being arrested, so at least that was good news.

PIERCE: Parish leaders are also concerned about their seafood industry. They'd like to see BP commit to monthly tests for years to come, which would help convince consumers that Gulf seafood is OK to eat.

Fall's shrimp season starts Monday, and Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser is worried.

Mr. BILLY NUNGESSER (President, Plaquemines Parish): We're fearful if that trawl drags the bottom and pulls oil up and those fishermen spent thousands of dollars on fuel and they get to the dock and nobody will buy it - we're going to have a problem.

PIERCE: Nungesser is sending out teams this weekend to make sure the waters are oil-free. If they do turn up oil, he plans to ask the state to close those areas, even though it's already deemed them safe.

Nungesser is optimistic about working with the Coast Guard over the next seven days, but without more detailed plans he's concerned they won't stick around as long as the thinks they should.

He wants to make sure those resources dont disappear before the oil does. But when it comes down to it, says Nungesser, who will decide when there's no more oil in the water?

Mr. NUNGESSER: Who's going to make that call? Is it the Coast Guard? Is it BP? Is it their subcontractors? Is the parish presidents?

PIERCE: Nungesser might get another chance to pose that question in a few weeks when Governor Jindal says they'll meet with Coast Guard and BP officials to gauge progress.

Thomas Pierce, NPR News, New Orleans.

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