Sierra Club leaders fear "catastrophic" oil spill impact - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

Sierra Club leaders fear "catastrophic" oil spill impact

SHIP ISLAND, MS (WLOX) -

By Steve Phillips – bio | email

SHIP ISLAND, MS (WLOX) - Environmentalists fear a "worse case scenario" would involve oil washing ashore on the barrier islands, into the Mississippi Sound, then onto the mainland beaches.

The Sierra Club hosted a media boat trip to Ship Island Tuesday to show everyone "what's at stake."

Sierra Club leaders say some government officials, including Governor Haley Barbour, are unfairly "sugar coating" the potential severity of the oil spill.

They say if an oily mess washes onto Mississippi's barrier islands and the coast line, the resulting impact would likely be "catastrophic." 

The John Coghill supply ship lays more protective boom near shore, along the western edge of Ship Island.

"This is the west tip, we call this the west tip of Ship Island. This is a popular birding, roosting area for pelicans and other sea birds," Captain Louis Skrmetta explained, as a throng of media representatives crowded the top deck of his excursion boat.

An assortment of birds congregates along the western tip. The location has long been a sanctuary for both native sea birds and migratory species passing through.   

This week, those flocks share their paradise with oil booms, barriers designed to keep this place from becoming a oily disaster area.

Casey DeMoss-Roberts is with the Gulf Restoration Network.

"Ship Island is a great example of what's so special about Mississippi's coast. It's a barrier island, but it has marsh grasses on it that are very important. It supports a lot of bird species. It's a habitat for important birds and fish. And on our way here we saw dolphins," she said.

"The economic impacts of this could be absolutely astronomical before it's all said and done. And again, I hope that I'm wrong. I hope this situation somehow resolves itself. But the facts do not support the governor's position on this," said state Sierra Club president, Louie Miller.

Miller says much more needs to be done to try and keep the oil from washing ashore on the island.

For instance, instead of one supply ship laying down boom, he'd like to see a whole fleet of such vessels doing the same thing.

"We're hoping for a miracle. That the oil will somehow get capped and they'll be able to contain it. But I think that we need to be realistic and we need to prepare for the worst," says DeMoss-Roberts.

The chairman of the gulf coast Sierra Club says one of his worst fears is a long term Exxon-Valdez-like outcome.

"I visited Alaska in 2008 and we found out that the whole bay where the Exxon Valdez emptied its oil is still not productive. People cannot fish there. You cannot consume seafood and it's more than 20 years ago," said a concerned Steve Shepard.

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