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Idle fishermen fret as oil clean-up jobs disappear

Vatroslav Garbin stands near his commercial oyster boat while on standby with the vessels of opportunity program in Empire, La., on Thursday. Garbin signed a contract to participate in the vessels of opportunity program, but he has yet to be called to assist. 

Associated Press

Vatroslav Garbin stands near his commercial oyster boat while on standby with the vessels of opportunity program in Empire, La., on Thursday. Garbin signed a contract to participate in the vessels of opportunity program, but he has yet to be called to assist. 

VENICE, La. — Uncertainty, like the gulf's waters, ebbs and flows in this fishing village in Louisiana's southern reaches.

Shortly after the oil began gushing more than three months ago, fishing was banned in vast areas of the Gulf of Mexico, and many of the local fishermen in this rustic town of 500 residents didn't know where their next paycheck would come from.

Then came stability, when BP started paying up to $1,500 a day for fisherman to perform the gritty work of scooping gunk from the surface of the gulf.

Now, as a cap on the busted well has kept oil from leaking for more than two weeks and there is much less oil on the water, uncertainty has returned.

"I don't believe it's only been 100 days," said Quan Truong, 40, one of many fishermen who worry that their only source of income these days will vanish. "In my heart it feels like more."

There is cause for concern for workers like Truong: The signs of a scaled-back cleanup force, offshore and on land, are visible throughout the Gulf Coast.

At one point there were as many as 1,600 private boats — labeled "vessels of opportunity'' by BP — working off the shores of Florida, Alabama and Mississippi. That number has now dropped to about 300.

Along Pensacola Beach, one of Florida's most affected areas, 800 workers comb the soft sands for tar balls — down from 1,600 last week.

And miles of boom continue to be removed throughout Florida's Panhandle, with state Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Michael W. Sole announcing on Thursday that Florida would begin "rightsizing the response effort."

"We will now begin the cautious and measured rightsizing of protective measures to help Florida's residents and communities start the road to recovery," Sole said.

BP officials insist they will continue to keep the fishermen and boat captains assisting with clean-up on the payroll, though their hours and wages may be reduced.

"The numbers will be fewer as we need fewer people, but we will keep people working as much as we can," said BP spokesman Ray Melick.

He encouraged fishermen, even those getting paid by BP to staff the offshore cleanup, to continue filing compensation claims with the company.

Sediment slows sealing of gusher

Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the government's point man for the Gulf oil spill, said Friday that debris found in the bottom of a relief well drilled by BP must be fished out before crews can pump mud into the busted well in a procedure known as a static kill. The sediment settled there last week when crews popped in a plug to keep the well safe ahead of Tropical Storm Bonnie. Crews had hoped to start the static kill as early as Sunday, but removing debris will take 24 to 36 hours. After the static kill comes the bottom kill, where the relief well will be used to pump in mud and cement from the bottom.

House debate: In its most sweeping response to the gulf oil spill, the U.S. House on Friday approved legislation that would impose new environmental safeguards for offshore drilling, remove a $75 million liability cap for spill damages and slap industry with a new tax to fund conservation projects nationwide. The Democratic-drafted legislation passed on a largely party-line 209-193 vote. Partisan disagreements in the Senate will likely delay final passage of legislation until at least September, when Congress returns from its summer recess.

Times wires

Sediment slows sealing of gusher

Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the government's point man for the gulf oil spill, said Friday that debris found in the bottom of a relief well drilled by BP must be fished out before crews can pump mud into the busted well in a procedure known as a static kill. The sediment settled there last week when crews popped in a plug to keep the well safe ahead of Tropical Storm Bonnie. Crews had hoped to start the static kill as early as Sunday, but removing debris will take 24 to 36 hours. After the static kill comes the bottom kill, where the relief well will be used to pump in mud and cement from the bottom.

House debate: In its most sweeping response yet to the gulf oil spill, the U.S. House on Friday approved legislation that would impose new environmental safeguards for offshore drilling, remove a $75 million liability cap for spill damages and slap the oil industry with a new tax to fund conservation projects nationwide. The Democratic-drafted legislation passed on a largely party-line 209-193 vote. Partisan disagreements in the Senate will likely delay final passage of legislation until at least September, when Congress returns from its summer recess.

Times wires

Idle fishermen fret as oil clean-up jobs disappear 07/30/10 [Last modified: Friday, July 30, 2010 11:31pm]
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