Special Reports

Questions outpace answers from BP at Miss. town hall

OCEAN SPRINGS, Miss. — More than 80 people were ready with their questions for BP at a town hall meeting in Gulf Park Estates on Thursday night.

They wanted to know if the oil-dispersal chemicals were safe; if their bayou would be protected with booms; if they would be compensated if their property values fell because of the spill; why BP isn’t using volunteers from the area; and why BP isn’t giving out-of-work boat captains and crews first priority for the Vessels of Opportunity jobs.

Jackson County Supervisor John McKay moderated from the audience and worked to keep the questions short and orderly, but people were concerned and BP’s spokeswoman, Lisa Houghton, had few solid answers.

Houghton, Bill Walker with DMR and Trudy Fisher with DEQ assured the crowd the incident command center in Mobile has a plan to best protect the area.

McKay asked if they might publish the plan somehow so county officials and residents could see what’s in store to protect each bayou and bay in the area.

“We could help if we knew the plan,” McKay said.

Houghton said BP isn’t set up right now for volunteers to put out booms. McKay asked, “Why not? All these volunteers are wanting to do something.”

Houghton said she’d have to look into both issues further and get back with him.

“We want to work with you to assist in protecting your homes,” she said. “We’ll continue to find ways you can volunteer and do that.”

When asked by an attendee for specifics about compensating people’s losses, Houghton gave a general explanation of the process. The woman asked again, so an attorney stood up and answered her with a succinct list of compensation options under the Oil Pollution Act, which pleased the crowd.

Fisher said the dispersal chemicals are the best choice in a bad situation and Walker told the crowd BP isn’t looking for recreational boats in its Vessels of Opportunity program, so fishermen likely would be given priority consideration.

Leaving the meeting, Lindsay Bliss of Ocean Springs noted people expected answers and didn’t get them.

“I don’t think there were a lot of answers tonight,” she said. “There was just a lot of smoke.”