Gulf Islands Conservancy, Inc.

Dedicated to the preservation and protection of the barrier islands and coastal wetlands of Mississippi.

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Gulf Islands Conservancy, Inc.
Post Office Box 1203
Gulfport, MS  39502-1203

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Coast Activists Deliver the Word
Notes from the MDA Hearing in Jackson on May 27

Reilly Morse

It was long. It lasted nearly 4.5 hours, including the discussions after the formal meeting closed.

It began with a bang. Two state senators, Tommy Gollott (D) Biloxi and Billy Hewes (R), Gulfport, and one state representative, Randall Patterson (R) Biloxi/D'Iberville broke away from the Special Session and expressed opposition to drilling in and near the Gulf Islands National Seashore. Letters from other legislators, including influential Senator Bobby Moak, Bogue Chitto, chairman of the Gaming committee, joined the chorus. Supervisor Connie Rocko traveled to the meeting and personally delivered a transcript of Tuesday's meeting in Biloxi to include in the MDA's official record. Thank you, Ms. Rocko, and the rest of the Harrison County Board of Supervisors. These speakers received strong applause.

It included new information. Robert Barq (a legendary Coast name) described how on Thursday, the Biloxi Businessmen's Club, after talking out the matter, came to agree on a resolution 36-2 to limit any minerals exploration or drilling to 12 miles south of the Barrier Islands. Captain Louis Skrmetta, whose grandfather began the Ship Island Excursion ferry franchise decades ago spoke at length about the tourism value of the pristine islands and the damage that would be done by drilling or seismic operations. Louie Miller, Executive Director of the Mississippi Chapter of the Sierra Club, put forth a series of exhibits, including the full page Sun Herald editorial and the deep concerns about this proposal expressed by Senator Trent Lott, all of which corroborated the strong public opposition. John Ford, whose family deeded a portion of their holdings to the government as a park, introduced records showing that state minerals exploitation may breach the terms of the deed. Speaker after speaker attested to the need to have refuges from civilization like these islands. One speaker said that to his knowledge Walter Anderson never was inspired to paint a drilling platform. Another speaker who had helped represent the State of Mississippi in the tobacco litigation said that when that deal was done, the paperwork and regulations involved were extremely thick, which is the way it needs to be when you deal with a major national industry. You must dot the i's and cross the t's.  He said that these few pages of regulation looked to be completely inadequate to the task of keeping a rein on oil and gas exploration around national parks. I was impressed with the number and variety of coast citizens, some 7 generations old, some new arrivals, some professionals, some educators, some scientists, some developers, some regular people,  who made a point to travel to Jackson under very short notice and difficult conditions to speak their piece. Many of the speakers repeated choice points made by others who weren't able to attend.

On behalf of GIC and Sierra Club Mississippi Chapter, I placed into the record two excellent expert reports secured by noted environmental attorney Robert Wiygul for our groups criticizing the regulations and the economic projections from drilling. Robert discussed these at Tuesday's meeting in Biloxi. I also delivered the paper prepared by Ed Cake, another scientist who offered expert opinions on the rampant problems with the seismic regulations, and who asked one of us to bring his remarks to Jackson, since he did not trust Mr. Moody to do so. I also showed MDA a series of photos of Dauphin Island (originally supplied by GIC member Libby Graves and others) that accurately portrayed the impact of offshore drilling, plus other photos depicting the pristine natural experience on Horn Island.  These photos and a 14 point summary of the expert critiques were projected on an enormous auditorium screen, so there was no possibility of Mr. Speed or Mr. Moody missing the picture. Before the meeting began, Mr. Moody actually attempted to curtail my use of some of this information, but he was unsuccessful. The First Amendment is a beautiful thing in action.

The meeting was conducted in the former Central High School Auditorium in downtown Jackson. This building might have been able to accommodate the crowd that came to Biloxi's meeting, and the crowd would have been there for the official meeting if it had been in Biloxi, not Jackson, or if it had stayed in the original location, instead of being changed less than twelve hours before it was to begin, or if it had been held on a weeknight, instead of the Friday morning before Memorial Day weekend.

Two representatives of the Oil and Gas industry spoke at the end of the process and chastized the public for spreading a lot of misinformation. Truly an arrogant position for them to take, since they chose not to participate in the informational meeting in Biloxi, or to lead off Friday's meeting with their presentations. Just as one example, the seismic contractor complained that the air gun arrays would not be half as loud as 200 decibels or more. OK, so if its just between say 90 and 120 decibels, that puts it between very noisy (a heavy truck) and painful (jet airplane taking off). And remember this would be underwater, affecting fisheries, and traveling faster and farther than through the air. One speaker who followed pointed out that if the seismic were so safe, then why were they required to ramp up in such a way that would force fish populations to move away. The answer is seismic is hazardous to marine life. To learn lots more information (and hear samples) you can go to this link for the American Cetacean Society.

At the end of the meeting, Chairman Leland Speed invited participation in a smaller group meeting by representatives, but refused to suspend the process in the meantime. If adoption of seismic regulations goes forward, there are more important people than Mr. Speed to talk to if we are going to get this wrongheaded process terminated.

After it was over, the busload of people who showed up at 5 am to travel to Jackson loaded up for a meal and a return trip. I don't think I have ever been prouder to be from the Coast than when I saw person after person walk up to the mike and fearlessly pin back the ears of our government leaders.  Thanks to everyone who came up, and special thanks to those who helped arrange the bus.

[Personal note: My two daughters make me proud on this issue. My 21 year old daughter Meghan, a junior at Hollins University, arrived into Gulfport after a two-day drive from Virginia Tuesday afternoon, came to Tuesday night's 3-hour long hearing, drove with me to Jackson late Thursday night, ran the projection for my presentation Friday morning, and overcame her stage fright to make her first public comments on a public interest issue later that day. I believe she was the youngest speaker at the MDA.  My 15 year old daughter Alexandra, who just finished her freshman year at Gulfport High School, took the message to the students with No Drilling stickers on her violin case and displays on her backpack for the last month of class. She is fearless and committed. ]
Copyright 2005, Gulf Islands Conservancy, Inc.