BLACK & BLUE BAYOU
Running the corporate blockade at Louisiana's crudecovered beaches.
It's Friday, a month into the BP spill, and I've spent the last day trying to get to Elmer's Island Wildlife Refuge. I've been stymied at every turn by Jefferson Parish sheriffs deputies brought in to supplement the local police force of Grand Isle, a 229-year-old settlement here at the southern tip of Louisiana. Just eight miles long and so narrow in some spots that you can see from the Gulf side to the inland side, Grand Isle is all new clapboard and vinyl-sided bungalows since Katrina, but still scrappypopulation 1,500, eight times that in tourist season. It's also home to the only road to Elmer's, one of the islands where the oil is expected to first make landfall.
The route, however, is blocked by four cop cars. As my friend and I pull up, deputies start bawling us out; all media need to go to the Grand Isle community center, where a "BP Information Center" sign helpfully hangs out front. Inside, BP representative Barbara Martin tells us that if we want passage to Elmer's, we'll have to get permission from BP.
We tell Barbara about the yelling officers, and she seems truly upset. For one, she's married to a Jefferson Parish sheriffs deputy. For another, "We don't need more of a black eye than we already have."
"But it wasn't BP that was yelling at us; it was the sheriffs office."
"Yeah, I know, but we h ave... a very strong relationship."
"What do you mean? You have a lot of sway over the sheriffs office?"
When I tell Barbara I am a reporter, she stalks off and says she's not talking to me, then comes back and hugs me and says she was just playing. I tell her I don't understand why I can't see Elmer's Island unless I'm escorted by BP. She tells me BP's in charge because "it's BP's oil."
"But it's not BP's land."
"But BP's liable if anything happens. "
"So you're saying it's a safety precaution."
"Yeah! You don't want that oil gettin' into your pores." I point out that I've been walking around in it, along with plenty of residents and tourists, at the crude-splattered Grand Isle beach just across the street. "The mayor decides which beaches are closed," she says. I call the Grand Isle police and ask for the press office. I'm routed to voice mail for Melanie with BP.
I call the police back and ask why they gave me a number for BP. …