Oil spill dispersant-spraying drill took place without notice, Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser complains
July 4, 2012 ~ The Associated Press
Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser is upset that the parish wasn’t notified before an apparent drill for pilots who would spray dispersants in case of an oil spill. And he doesn’t believe that the planes used during the drill were spraying only water, as he was told. P.J. Hahn, the parish’s director of coastal zone management, said Tuesday that fishers working off of Venice called him and Nungesser on June 13, saying low-flying planes were spraying something that turned to foam on the water and made their skin itch or burn.
Hahn said the fishers told him that “whatever it was was burning their skin, causing like a rash to their skin when they were out there pulling in their nets.”
Hahn said he called the Coast Guard and was told it had no reports of any activity in the area. When he relayed that to the fishers, he said, they — and the crew of a plane looking for menhaden — sent him photographs which he forwarded to the Coast Guard. The photos show long white streaks covering an expanse of water, interrupted by blue Vs where boats or other objects are at the surface.
That was when he was told that planes flying out of Kiln, Miss., were spraying water during an oil spill dispersant drill for the Marine Spill Response Corp., a petroleum industry nonprofit for spill cleanup, Hahn said.
Nungesser said, “Look at the pictures. It appears there’ something more that they’re spraying in that. We just want some answers.”
MSRC spokeswoman Judith Roos said there was a drill in June, spraying water from clean tanks. “They haven’t been used in two years. So they are absolutely clean,” she said.
She also said, “To the best of our knowledge it was not anywhere near any fishermen. Because they have a spotter who searches for that.”
Roos said the organization has sent information to the state and the Coast Guard.
"I can’t comment on the photos. I don’t know what the photos are of," said Roos, who looked at them on her cell phone while on vacation.
She said MSRC notifies the FAA and Coast Guard before every drill, and would have no problem adding the state and parish to the list.
Hahn said the complaints came in during the evening. The parish had planned to go out the next day for water samples, but seas were too high because of a tropical depression, he said.
Nungesser said he had given the Coast Guard a July 3 deadline for more information, and sent out a news release Tuesday because he wasn’t satisfied.
"People in our parish are gun-shy when they see activity like this on our coast, especially with all they have been through the last two years. We need to know about things like this so we can inform our people," he said.