Gulf task force holds "listening session" in Biloxi

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - The group created by the President to help restore the Gulf of Mexico after the BP oil spill was in Biloxi on Tuesday.

The "Gulf Coast Eco-system Restoration Task Force" held a day long session at the coliseum convention center.

The task force has been working for nearly a year now. The "listening session" in Biloxi was the last of five such meetings around the gulf region.

Members heard plenty of concerns and got an overview of restoration work already underway in Mississippi.

"The economies of the gulf states supported nearly two and a half trillion dollars of the U.S. GDP in 2008," said EPA administrator Lisa Jackson, who chairs the panel.

Jackson, a gulf coast native, says the gulf is more than an economic engine, it's a way of life.

She calls the Gulf of Mexico, "one of America's greatest and most diverse treasures."

But that treasure was tarnished by last year's oil spill.

"When the BP oil spill occurred, it affected a lot of fishermen," said Jonny Troung, who spoke on behalf of Vietnamese shrimpers, many of whom experienced not only a loss of livelihood, but also ill health effects they blame on the oil.

"I think the biggest thing our community needs is language access. Many of them have a hard time navigating the claims process," said Troung, with the group Asian Americans for Change.

DEQ Director Trudy Fisher reminded the panel the importance of engaging the local community and local leaders.

"You truly find consensus and a way to tackle some of the largest problems we face in our Gulf of Mexico," said Fisher.

The task force heard about restoration work already underway, on the islands, and plans for future projects, like filling-in Camille-Katrina cut on Ship Island.

"We will be putting up to 18 million yards of sediment to fill that breach. Then we'll come in and put vegetation on that area to provide more stability," said Susan Rees, with the Army Corps of Engineers.

A partnership with farmers in Iowa is helping address the Gulf of Mexico dead zones created by fertilizers that wash down the Mississippi River.

"Better understand each other and try to work as a watershed group, that really truly is a group, both the upper Mississippi and the lower Mississippi basin with the gulf," said Dean Lempke, with the Iowa Department of Agriculture.

The panel is expected to release its final report and recommendations in early October.

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