Shrimp boat stranded by Hurricane Zeta a headache for all

Updated: Jan. 29, 2021 at 9:02 PM CST
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ST. MARTIN, Miss. (WLOX) - An early morning fuel spill at a shrimp dock has made a bad situation worse for neighbors in St. Martin.

The smell from the fuel spill on Friday, along with the noise from the clean-up, was annoying to residents who lived on the north side of the canal. The Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality and the Coast Guard responded to the spill early Friday morning. Clean up was expected to be completed by the end of the day.

The residents who live near the docks on a canal off of Old Fort Bayou said they have complained about the shrimp boats in the past to no avail. They say the boats, owned by Captain Ben’s Boat Dock, are blocking their access to the canal. They also complain of noise, odors, and small spills from bilge pumps.

And that was before Hurricane Zeta left one of Benjamin Nguyen’s boats in one of the neighbor’s yards in October.

For Nguyen, the storm killed his business of selling shrimp from the dock.

“Pretty much took everything from me,” he said Friday as an environmental crew worked to clean the spilled diesel fuel from around his boat Capt. Ben 4. “It messed up my pier, it put my boat on land, flooded all my trucks and cars. I didn’t think it would be that bad, but it was like a 12-foot surge.”

Neighbors complain that he didn’t do a good enough job tying up his boats for the storm. Now the Capt. Ben 3 is in Dona Stephens’ yard.

“I asked about moving the boat itself, and I was told I had to allow them to salvage it, as long as they did it in a timely manner,” Stephens said. “And I have not been able to get anybody to define what a ‘timely manner’ is.”

Stephens has lived on her property since 1973 and relishes the view of Fort Bayou from the swing hanging from an oak in her back yard. But that view was spoiled, she said, by Nguyen’s boats that moved in about three years ago. She questions whether his business fits the C-2 zoning of the land and other disruptions the shrimp boats cause.

Friday’s fuel spill raised her frustration level that was already elevated by the stranded shrimp boat.

“We can’t get any help here from anybody,” she said. “I have contacted disaster relief and all they did was offer me an SBA loan. It’s not a problem. It’s somebody else’s problem. Somebody needs to get this boat moved off my property.”

Nguyen said he has contacted salvagers, but nobody can get a barge into the shallow canal. Stephens said the canal hasn’t been dredged since it was cut in the 1960s.

Nguyen said he is running out of options.

“If anybody has anything out there that can help me out and try to get this boat off, I’m all ears,” he said. “Message me on Facebook or anything. I’m open to anything to try to get that boat off.”

He said that includes letting someone cut the boat up and take it for salvage.

“Whoever wants it can come get it and they just pay for whatever it costs. I’d be cool with that, too,” he said.

Stephens said she has talked to Jackson County Supervisor Troy Ross and DMR about her complaints without success.

Ross said he met with DMR on the issue of property owners’ access on the canal, but has not found any solutions. One of the obstacles, he said, is jurisdiction. Once it’s on the water, he said it is out of his hands.

Stephens’ frustration has risen since the pandemic has created delays in getting anything done.

“Troy Ross’ excuse was COVID and DMR’s excuse was COVID,” Stephens said with a scowl. “And we may be dealing with COVID for years now down the road, and at some point COVID has to stop being the excuse for nobody doing their job.”

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