Senate hearing considers oil spill response - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

Senate hearing considers oil spill response

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) -

By Steve Phillips – bio | email

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - South Mississippi senators heard plenty about the oil spill crisis Thursday afternoon. A select Senate committee held a hearing at the DMR headquarters to discuss Mississippi's ongoing response to the spill.

The hearing lasted several hours and covered plenty of ground. Among the highlights:  Coast tourism is taking a drastic hit this summer, communications between BP and county emergency directors still needs improving  and the National Guard is standing-by to ramp up its response.

"I want to tell you, we're not here as a committee to make political speeches, point fingers, cast blame. We're here to address the problem of the oil spill and in particular it is out hope that we're able to address Mississippi's role in the response and determine if we're making the best use of our available resources," said Sen. Billy Hewes, who chaired the meeting.

DMR Director Dr. William Walker told the committee the best possible solution for Mississippi lies with winning the battle offshore.

"That if we could get that well either stopped or contained so new product is not entering the water column in significant amounts, as it is right now, we could handle that situation out there and not in here," said Dr. William Walker.

Should the oil invade our beaches, the National Guard is ready.

"The worst case scenario would be about 12 hundred National Guardsmen assisting with beach closures, securing the boat ramps and allowing only vessels of opportunity out into the Mississippi Sound. Providing roving security, fixed point security," said Col. Lee Smithson.

"I would like to see a little more involvement on a local level with the people that are up in the unified command, including us a little more in their decision making process," said Jackson County EOC director Donald Langham.

Tourism leaders reiterated growing concerns about lost business.

"The worrisome part is that the calls for reservations and the calls for booking has stopped. And we have to get out to those people that were coming, not to worry about the beach, but the reason they wanted to come to begin with is still here and still available to 'em," said Ken Montana, with the Harrison County Tourism Commission.

Last month, restaurant owners worried most about seafood supplies.

"Well, a month later it's changed to: Can I keep my business open?" said Scranton's Restaurant owner Richard Chenoweth.

"It's getting tough out there. Even people who have been around a long time like me. It's scary," said Scott Weinberg, who owns Blow Fly Inn in Gulfport.

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