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Oil's Arrival Affirms Louisiana Community's Fears

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Oil's Arrival Affirms Louisiana Community's Fears

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Oil's Arrival Affirms Louisiana Community's Fears

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

Thick brown oil is washing up along the coast in some parts of southern Louisiana, threatening wildlife and vital habitat. Those communities not yet seeing oil on their shores are bracing for the worst. NPR's David Schaper has this report.

DAVID SCHAPER: We're out in the coastal waters of St. Bernard Parish with Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries agents. We're in an area of rich oyster beds and other critical habitats known as the Biloxi Marsh within Lake Borgne. There's no oil here yet but it's coming, and there's an increasingly frantic effort to lay miles of boom to keep oil from getting into these marshes.

(Soundbite of vehicle engine)

SCHAPER: Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Sergeant Jason Russo describes how local commercial fishermen hired by BP strategically anchor the floating booms.

Sergeant JASON RUSSO (Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries): What they do is, is when the boom starts at the marsh, they have an anchor attached to one end of the boom. And somebody will actually get out and walk across the marsh and throw the anchor out into the grass and it'll anchor that side. Then they're stretch the boom out across the pass and(ph) the opening and then do the same thing on the marsh on the other side.

SCHAPER: But Russo says there's often not enough boom to encircle an entire marsh so it's placed around inlets and passes to keep the oil from getting deep into the reeds.

The effort to keep oil from reaching the fragile islands and wetlands of St. Bernard Parish are being coordinated at the Breton Sound Marina in Hopedale. Pat Touchard is an expert in oil spill containment hired by BP to help coordinate operations here. He says in addition to placing boom around sensitive marshes and oyster beds, crews are out in open waters in the Mississippi Sound.

They're driving pilings into the sea bed to attach to booms that they hope will stop the oil where it would likely come in from the Gulf.

Mr. PAT TOUCHARD: It's another layer. This whole concept is defense in layers and defense in strategies.

SCHAPER: But after seeing oil the consistency of latex paint coating the reeds and grasses in the marshes of neighboring Plaquemines Parish, some officials here in St. Bernard Parish are beginning to question the booming strategy.

Ms. JENNIFER BELSOM (Spokesperson, St. Bernard Parish): I don't know if this is going to be adequate to keep us safe. I doubt it.

SCHAPER: Jennifer Belsom is a spokeswoman for St. Bernard Parish.

Ms. BELSOM: In out guts, we don't have a very good feeling, seeing what's happening just next door to us in Plaquemines. So hopefully somebody will step up to bat and say this is what we're going to do and do something a little more effective than just boom.

SCHAPER: There is a growing uneasiness along these and other intercoastal waterways in southeastern Louisiana as the threat of oil following environs and livelihoods grows ever more real.

St. Bernard Parish president Craig Taffaro.

Mr. CRAIG TAFFARO (President, St. Bernard Parish): The oil's here. It's just what we don't know yet is to what extent and to what intensity we'll experience it.

SCHAPER: Taffaro says many of those who earn their living on the water feel like they've been sucker-punched by the oil spill just four and a half years after almost being knocked out by Katrina. Taffaro has arranged for a town hall meeting with BP officials this Monday night as many local residents are growing increasingly frustrated.

Mr. DON MANESSUS(ph): They're not telling us everything, for one thing.

SCHAPER: Don Manessus looked worried as he pulled his boat in after an unsuccessful day fishing for speckled trout on some of the waters that still remain open to fishing.

Mr. MANESSUS: The future of fishing don't look good. I've been fishing this area since I'm nine years old.

SCHAPER: And the 75-year-old Manessus wonders if this might have been his last time fishing these coastal waters.

David Schaper, NPR News, Hopedale, Louisiana.

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