Fishermen Fume About River Debris Removal

A love for bass fishing draws Tony Kennedy to the Escatawpa River. The winding waterway is among the scenic treasures of South Mississippi.

"These trees here. And those roots are very important too," said Kennedy, pointing to the river bank from his cruising bass boat. "Cause when the water gets too high, that's where the fish go. They go around the roots of these trees."

That's why Kennedy and his fellow fishermen are not at all happy with many of the trees they say debris crews removed.

"Those are cypresses that they've cut. Those cypress trees would be there for 100 years. That's not hurricane debris," said a dismayed Kennedy.

"And cutting down live trees, green trees. They're getting very much overzealous. They get paid by the ton, or by the cubic yard. The more they bring to the scales, the more money they make," said Kennedy.

We ran into several fishermen on the river. A pair of fishermen said they saw clean-up barges loaded with lumber. And it didn't all appear to be hurricane debris. Some of the wood looked like it came from live trees.

"I wouldn't doubt that at all. It didn't look like it, some of it didn't look like it was debris," said one.

Coast Guard Chief William Allen defends the work along the Escatawpa. He helped oversee it, with a simple objective.

"Determine whether it is or could be a potential hazard to navigation. And I don't know whether it was there before the storm or after the storm. All I know, it's there now and has the possibility of getting into the waterway and somebody hitting it," he explained.

Allen says strict rules prohibited the removal of live oaks, magnolias and cypress trees. So what about the many fresh cut cypress we saw?

Allen says the Coast Guard crews did not remove those cypress.

"Absolutely not," he said.

He gave the same reply when asked if he knew who did cut the cypress trees.

"Absolutely not. Don't have a clue," Allen said.

The Coast Guard chief says the vast majority of comments they've received about the ongoing clean-up have been positive.

Although Chief Allen admits the contractor removing debris does get paid by the cubic yard, he says there are Coast Guard representatives monitoring the work daily, to be certain the guidelines are follows.

Allen says much more than leaning trees and vegetation have been removed from area waterways, including the Escatawpa River. He says they pulled tires, mobile homes, sunken boats, cars and even a bus from the river waters.