Coalition Fights Island Rigs

Robert "Bones" Barq is chairman of the 12 Miles South Coalition.

"We need help," Barq said, telling board members he didn't want his city's view, or the view from the barrier islands to be dotted with oil rigs.

"What we're demanding is for the federal government to buy up all of our mineral rights," he said.

Members of the 12 Miles South Coalition argued that if the federal government bought the mineral rights below Gulf Islands National Seashore, the state would get the money it sought, and both the islands and coast tourism would be protected from unwanted oil exploration.

"There is just some things not for sale. And the coast barrier islands are one of them," said Barq.

One of Barq's associates on the 12 Miles panel is Sen. Tommy Gollott.

"I believe there will be very few people who are against this," the Biloxi senator said.

One of the points everybody in the coalition rallied around was the oil rigs' potential impact on tourism.

Reilly Morse is a local attorney who argues against casino projects that he feels are harming the environment. But at the news conference, Morse defended casinos, citing the revenue they bring to Mississippi that could be jeopardized by oil rigs.

"That's stupid," he said, "It's bad economics."

A year ago, coast casinos voted to support oil and gas exploration, but only if it was at least 12 nautical miles south of the barrier islands. Their liason is Beverly Martin, a member of the 12 Miles South Coalition.

"One thing we sell to our customers and tourists is the unobstructed view of the beautiful Mississippi Gulf Coast," she said. "Unobstructed being the key word. We would like to see it continue to be that way."

The newly formed coalition liked the casinos' proposal so much, it adopted the 12 mile buffer zone in its name.

"If there is to be any drilling done, we ask for it to be 12 miles south of the nautical islands." Barq said. "And that is the only compromise there is."

In August, this coalition will hold a rally at the Coliseum, to encourage others to speak out against oil rigs near the islands that protect the Mississippi Sound.

The head of the MDA didn't want to talk about the oil exploration plans. He passed a WLOX News phone call off to his communications' office. But the communications' director never returned our call.