Fishing company owner, and now oil spill activist, describes the devastation of the current situation and gives her views on the way forward for the people of the Gulf Coast
Overloaded with superficial news stories, I wanted to get to the heart of the oil spill’s effects. So I drove from New Orleans to “the end of the world” – Venice, Louisiana – last stop on the Mississippi before the Gulf of Mexico. One outspoken resident, Kindra Arnesen, had caught my attention with her speech at a public forum, and she accepted an invitation to share her perspective in a more in-depth and targeted manner.
To listen to the audio interview, click here (35 minutes):[audio:http://cdn.statehousemedia.com/louisiana/2010-07-06/KindraArnesen.mp3]
With input from her husband George, Mrs. Arnesen gave an informative interview. She outlined the current and ongoing effects of the spill, noted the primary culprits in the ineffectual response, questioned the accuracy of media coverage, and criticized the blanket moratorium.
From the outset, her passion and emotion were evident – and the passion was informed. She has lived and worked by the shore and on the Gulf for decades, through Hurricane Katrina and the rebuilding of the entire town. “This is my backyard,” she says; “I love the Gulf.”
The fishing company she and her husband run has enabled them to see the on-water effects, and since the initial explosion she has “done nothing but study for 12 to 20 hours per day.” She has made every effort to monitor the clean up and attend informational events. Additionally, the Coast Guard allowed her access to many government agency and BP meetings, so she has witnessed the political and corporate angles on the clean up process.
Unimpressed, she is packing up and leaving. Her family members, including two children, are ill with rashes and ear infections, like so many others down her street, and she is concerned that residents will suffer worse symptoms over time. The workers on her fleet of three boats have had to return to shore due to poor health, and the visible array of dead sea creatures is further evidence of the potential health risks.
Others in the town of only about 2,000 share her view and are preparing to leave. However, as the contamination gets worse by the day – “they haven’t even shut it off yet” – many cannot afford to do so. The uncertain future of the area means locals do not know when or if they will be able to return or where they stand financially in terms of the compensation they will receive.
While BP sought to hire locals as part of the clean-up, once that is over the economic situation is “frightening.” The Louisiana fishing industry, estimated to be worth an annual $3 billion, is in tatters. About one-third of the Gulf, more than 81,000 square miles, is already closed off from fishing. The drilling moratorium, still making its way through the courts, means that both of the local industry mainstays are on a “rollercoaster.” To rub salt into the wound, any employment offered by BP but rejected by locals, regardless of how dangerous, is to be deducted from spill compensation payments.
When asked for her perspective on the effectiveness of particular policies or government agencies, she did not hold back. However, she wanted to make clear that “nine out of ten of people, that I have met on this operation, want to do the right thing… are fantastic, good hearted, hard-working American citizens.”
Her frustrations are not with them. Rather they are with the “Armani suits sitting behind a desk… There are so many things they could do that they don’t do. The list goes on and on.” When pushed regarding what level or branch of government was most at fault, she responded that “It comes from the top of the totem pole. They are impeding the work on the ground.”
But she decried the infighting and lack of unity among the different government bodies as the biggest problem. Many good ideas and offers of help are “tied up in red tape, bounced around from agency to agency… It’s like a game to these people. This isn’t a game; this is an ecological disaster.”
She also has the impression that the Federal Government and the Coast Guard are directing media coverage toward a more positive than accurate perspective. Regarding media boat rides and fly overs with the Coast Guard’s public relations department, “there are only certain places that they go,” and the best, close-up footage of the Deepwater Horizon site, obtained by 60 Minutes Australia, is no longer available.
More than one hundred thousand views of Kindra’s speech on YouTube, in less than one week, stand testament to the continued interest in an honest voice in this scenario. However, the latest move from the White House has been to stifle the press, with a ban on all close-up views of the clean up.
Perhaps most striking of all her comments was her sharp criticism of the drilling moratorium. Even as an acute victim of the spill, she and her husband spoke of how this area, and perhaps the entire nation, depends the Gulf oil industry. “If [the rigs] leave, they may not be back for years,” given the long-term nature of the contracts.
They would be quite happy to see a different approach to regulation, with clearer accountability and severer consequences. They even point out the many environmental problems that drilling has brought; “but we need them,” and they believe the blanket moratorium will ruin the local economy. “Our [fishing industry] was just crippled, and now they want to take away the [oil industry]” as well.