Environmental, social justice groups reflect on oil spill disaster

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Environmental and social justice groups held a news conference in Biloxi on Tuesday, talking about the ongoing impact of the BP oil spill that happened three years ago this week.

Representatives from those groups not only looked at the damage done, they also offered suggestions for moving forward.

"Remember there are people in the gulf region that are still suffering even today, as a result of this terrible oil spill," said Rev. Eddie Hartwell, as he opened the conference by praying for the 11 men who lost their lives in the Deepwater Horizon explosion.

The groups shared their message against a backdrop of shrimp boats, as working fishermen prepare for the upcoming season. The director of the STEPS Coalition says those fishermen could be hired to help with future restoration efforts by allowing contract preferences.

"Such preferences can include giving additional consideration to companies that utilize local residents as workers," said Roberta Avilla.

The groups also support forming a citizens advisory council to help ensure such disasters never happen again.

"To have a seat at the table. To check the math and verify the claims of the oil and gas industry moving forward," explained Raleigh Hoke, with the Gulf Restoration Network.

Among the families directly affected by the BP oil disaster are generation of fishermen. And in Biloxi, many of those families are Vietnamese, who rely on those gulf waters to make a living.

Folks like Ming Lo and Duc Nguyen, who own three commercial fishing vessels.

"He's an oysterman and a shrimper. And for example, the oyster reefs have been closed and shrimp landings have been reduced," said Thao Vu, as she interpreted his Vietnamese comments, "So he's very concerned about the ability to continue fishing."

"The whole claims process has been unfair. That her family only received six months of emergency claims. What about their losses since then?" she said, translating the woman's comments.

The groups also discussed environmental damages: dead dolphins and turtles and tar mats still washing onto barrier islands.

"Thousands of pounds of material that we have no idea where it's going or what level of contamination it's providing us here on the coast," said Terese Collins with Gulf Islands Conservancy.

The groups also released a plan called the Gulf Future Guidance for Sustainable Restoration. It is a blueprint that offers some suggestions about spending BP fine money that's expected to come through the RESTORE ACT.

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