Dean Blanchard, a fish processor, is addressing a rally of more than 100 people on Grand Isle, Louisiana:
They’re trying to pressure us into taking a little bit of money but we don’t know what the future’s going to bring.
Seven months ago Grand Isle was considered a little slice of paradise within the state … but not anymore. That was before the oil came here.
The beach still looks like it’s been transplanted from Kent in the United Kingdom during World War Two – all barriers, heavy machinery and lookout posts.
Tourists are few and far between, businesses are struggling to stay solvent, boat captains have zero clients to take out onto the water – all because of the oil.
The rally, at which locals were angry at what they see as slow progress in handing out compensation for the BP oil spill, was held as a deadline came up to file for emergency funds from the cash set-aside by the oil giant.
But the process and the waiting has created anxiety and concern.
Blanchard has had to lay off 65 staff at his fish factory in the past six months … he says the claims process is stacked against him:
He’s gonna try to starve us out and put us in a position where we ain’t got no choice but to take a final settlement but how can anybody take a final settlement when you don’t know what’s gonna happen in three or four years.
Dean’s factory is idle as he waits for the Obama administration (the “he” Dean refers to is Ken Feinberg, the man appointed to oversee the claims process) to determine how the billions they told BP to set aside for compensation is actually spent.
A short drive away and living in a shack we met JJ Creppel, a native American fisherman who has made a living from the sea off Louisiana all his life.
The spill forced him to pawn his boat.
He reckoned $25,000 would put him back on his feet – the maximum he’d be eligible for based on tax returns.
So far he’s only received half of that and doesn’t know when he’ll get the rest:
I was just like charging them a $1,000 a month and that ain’t really paying my bills … I got rent, I got utilities, I got payments I’ve gotta make on my truck and it just ain’t really just covering the bills.
His main concern is for his long-term future:
I’m looking at ten years down the road about how bad it’s gonna be and that ain’t gonna be enough.
The truth is this: Claims ARE being paid, the process IS moving along, but it’s hit and miss!
For example, on Bourbon Street in New Orleans, a popular tourist destination, Al Jazeera spoke to a waitress who said she received a $10,000 payout for lost wages … and yet she lives nowhere near the spill zone.
Louisiana-based lawyers like Stuart Smith say the system lacks transparency and is confusing. He told me:
There’s no rhyme or reason as to how they’re paying, what they’re paying to whom – we can’t figure it out and nobody really knows what’s going on.
And that’s the point the people rallying at Grand Isle hope to get across to the rest of the world.