Along Louisiana's bayous, more worry about future than relief over well kill

By Krissah Thompson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 4, 2010; 6:47 PM

HOUMA, LA. -- There was no collective sigh of relief along Louisiana's bayous.

"It ain't over. It's only the beginning. This is just the beginning of a nightmare," Mike Dupre said from behind the counter at Captain Allen's Bait and Tackle on Highway 56 in Houma. Fishermen were coming in to buy minnows and other live bait, and almost all of the bayous nearby have reopened. But they don't believe that a sealed well means the end of the crisis the oil has dumped on Gulf of Mexico residents.

"I'm telling you, if that seal is man-made, it can break," Dupre said to Gary Molinere, a retired trawler and former oil rig worker who lives out near Bayou Terrebonne.

"Whenever you have a storm that roughs up the bottom of the gulf, it's coming up," Molinere said. "I just hope we don't have no major hurricanes."

Only three sacks of crawfish came through the doors Wednesday, but the store has been shipping in shrimp from farther east to compensate for the slowdown close to home. Local fishing boats are back out, but so many questions about the future remain.

"We always have dead zones in the gulf, but I wonder how much those dead zones are going to be now," said Dupre, who saw the thick oil coating a friend's trawling net a few weeks back. "They're cleaning up what they can see. It's what they can't see."

There's worry about the health risks -- not so much in the seafood, which no one they know has stopped eating -- but in the wetlands cleanup. "This fella who came in here the other day was working out there," Dupre said. "He was sick as a dog."

Tackle sales were down 30 percent at Captain Allen's last month, but the Dupres have no complaints -- BP has paid the family for the money lost in sales plus 10 percent -- and will keep supplementing its loss.

Now, Molinere and Dupre want to see the drilling moratorium lifted.

"People still have to work. You have an accident on the road, you don't stop driving," Molinere said.

"I've hit my finger with a hammer before while trying to nail something. I didn't stop hammering," Dupre said.

"I cut my foot while moving the grass one time, I didn't stop mowing the lawn," Molinere said. "Once you stop drilling over there, everything stops here."

Down in the tourist haven Grand Isle, Emma Chighizola has counted the summer a total loss. The well might be sealed, but clean up crews have rented nearly all of the summer houses and there are few places for tourists to stay. Not that it matters much -- the only folks who have come to Grand Isle this summer have been drawn not by blue water and beaches but curiosity.

"They drive down on Saturdays to see the oil," said Chighizola, who has owned Grand Isle's Blue Water Souvenir shop for more than two decades.

It has been her worst summer ever. The well kill was a relief in one way, she said, "but we know there's still a lot in the water and we don't know how long it will take it to surface."

She hears the news that three-quarters of the spilt oil has evaporated, been sucked up or otherwise dissipated in the gulf. She doesn't believe it.

Her son works down on the beach here, riding a tractor and tilling the sand to scoop up oil. He says, "Mom, it's still coming in," said Chighizola, who wears a white button that reads "Holding on to our Cajun Coast with Hearts and Hands."

"We're happy the workers are here cleaning, but we'll be glad to see them leave," she said.

Blue Water Souvenirs was empty again Wednesday, and Chighizola sat watching "Wheel of Fortune," tired of listening to news about the spill. No one is buying the seashell necklaces or the "Every Hour in Grand Isle Is Happy Hour" T-shirts, though cleanup crews -- nearly all are from out of town -- have bought a few trinkets.

"Hopefully we'll bounce back next summer," Chighizola said. "I'd like to see BP finish the clean up, and the government officials pushing BP to do it."

That sentiment is shared. In a decidedly unscientific poll, New Orleans area talk radio host John "Spud" McConnell asked his listeners whether they were "thankful," "thrilled" or felt "it's about time" that BP engineers successfully executed the static kill. A whopping 75 percent said it was about time, that the oil spill crisis has gone on much too long.

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