Archive for June, 2010

NOLA: Day eight addition

2010/06/25

This post isn’t related to the oil spill yet but when it is, it’s going to be a sad day.
After wandering around the docks, looking for signs of oil and signs of people who work in the fishing industry, we went to the Barataria Preserve nearby. The preserve is really amazing. I’d never seen a swamp like that before and was awestruck by the place. There is so much life, in every nook and cranny of this little area of the swamp. It’s a fine example of much of the Gulf coast which will most likely be affected by the oil.
Here are a few photos I took while there.

NOLA: Day eight. Lafitte.

2010/06/24

Today Chris and I went south to Lafitte, La. which is the last car-accessible populated area along the bayou before one reaches Barataria Bay, north of Grand Isle.

This southern part of the state is still attempting to recover from Hurricane Katrina. Docks, buildings, vehicles and even boats are frozen in a post-Katrina state where their owners just gave up on the attempt to recover. The BP oil spill is yet another blow to the region and who knows how much recovery we’ll see completed five years from now.

Right now, Lafitte is a bit like a ghost town if you ask me. Almost every dock had shrimp and fishing boats tied up. Nothing that may seem out of the ordinary to a tourist or an out-of-towner, but the community lives on commercial fishing. The boats tied up are a sign of trouble in the industry. On a normal day, they would all be out fishing and making money.

The town seemed almost abandoned aside from workers at convenience stores and gas stations. Many locals have taken up employment working with clean-up crews and though they are out during the day, they aren’t on their boats. The boat rental businesses looked completely closed up. It would have probably been easier to buy a boat today than attempt to rent one. And there were plenty for sale.

After driving around we found one of the sub-contracted companies working for BP doing cleanup. In a parking lot beside the water there was a pontoon boat that had been hauled out of the water on a trailer. The water line was stained with thick tar the whole way around the boat. This is one of those craft that has a pump on it with operators sucking tar off the surface of the water out in the bay. Beside the boat was a pair of trailers loaded down with small, yellow oil booms.

These are segmented in five-foot sections to be able to make tighter curves inside the narrow inlets and hug the edges of the bayou. Although the oil itself hadn’t begun to wash up in Lafitte with the tide or wind, it was surely being carried in very small amounts on the hulls of boats coming and going to aid in oil removal. They were preparing for its arrival with the booms staged at the water’s edge.

NOLA: Day Seven, update

2010/06/23

Since it looks like the town of Venice, La. is kind of locked down like Grand Isle was, and Venice, Italy is just too far for a day-trip, we’ll be heading to Lafitte, La. where a large number of fishermen have boats berthed.

NOLA: Day seven

2010/06/23

It’s the beginning of summer and not the most active time of year for any New Orleans business. The ones in the food/fishing/tourism/hotel sector are suffering more day-by-day with fewer travel reservations being made by out-of-towners, largely because of the perception of oil-tainted seafood.

Ok, coming clean from yesterday’s teaser, I was interviewing managers of strip clubs along Bourbon St. This is a unique business sector in the city since it doesn’t quite rely on fishing, it only needs an influx of people. The general consensus from the women and men at the doors of the clubs is that business is up a little for the season.

The oil workers who are posted up and passing through New Orleans are providing a bit of a windfall bump in patronage of the strip clubs. While I could not nail down a recorded interview with an owner of any of the multitude of the clubs along Bourbon St. in the French Quarter, I did speak with a few of the people who work in those establishments.

Scott, the manager of Stiletto’s Cabaret commented “what we have done to our environment and the economy is absolutely horrific.” He moved to New Orleans twelve years ago and spoke about the changes which he’s seen on Bourbon Street during that time, Hurricane Katrina being the biggest blow that New Orleans had seen since he arrived. The town hasn’t quite recovered since. While his feelings regarding the BP oil spill mirror the feelings of every other resident of New Orleans, he didn’t say that money wasn’t being made.

This is the same sentiment I heard from doormen and dancers on the sidewalks of Bourbon Street last night. Everyone hates the oil spill, but there are additional dollars flowing into this sector during a normally slow time of year. Not record-breaking profits, but business is up a bit. The flip side of the cash influx is that it is coming while thousands of people are losing their ways of life along the shores and in the bayous of the Gulf Coast. No one wants to revel in any profits being made off of the misfortune of the whole region.

NOLA: Day six

2010/06/22

I’m investigating a new facet of the oil spill’s effect on various sectors of the local economy. I won’t spoil it here, but I’ve got 4 interviews with different business managers tomorrow. The new approach has me out of that bit of discouragement I was in after going to Grand Isle last week. We’re still set to get to Venice probably Thursday and hopefully an interview or several with fisherman. I’m not counting on getting an interview with an oil worker, but I’m definitely going to try that one too.

Last night I had limited battery power and didn’t get the images up that I wanted, but I updated the day five blog post with a few photos.

NOLA: skipped a day & day five

2010/06/22

Sunday wasn’t so much a bust as it was hot and slow. A few places closed, not many senior managers or owners around to speak with so I got to research a bit about the area, food, fishing and tourism. I learned a few places that some of the press hang out as well.

Today I spoke to a few more businesses and the general consensus is: trickle down.

No matter where a person eats or shops, they have already felt the effect of the oil spill. The Gulf feeds the entire economy and touches every person here in every business, from every walk of life.

Cliff, the cook at the Clover Grill said “We’ve already felt it. All those people who come down here to eat seafood and the sport fishermen, they’re not coming through nearly as much. We don’t serve seafood here but everyone winds up here, now people just aren’t coming through like normal.”

It looks like Thursday I’ll be heading to Venice way down south and hopefully I’ll get to speak to a fisherman or two.

NOLA, day three. Grand Isle.

2010/06/20

Before this journey began, I had contacted my friend and old coworker Dana, whom I worked with at Naval Meteorological and Oceanographic Facility, Whidbey Island, Wa. It had been at least six years since I’d spoken with him in person, the last time was before I deployed to Iraq in 2004. Dana is still in the Navy and works at a Meteorological Center not too far from New Orleans. We arranged to have lunch today and he showed up a bit early, so we got coffee and a late breakfast. We decided that we’d visit Grand Isle for a few hours in hopes that we’d beat the afternoon thunderstorms and possibly catch some cleanup operations happening.

We drove right through a heavy downpour and the rain had us moving just a few miles per hour for a while. Once we came out of it, the sky had shut off the rain like from a faucet. After about 2 hours in the car, we reached Grand Isle and there are signs of cleanup everywhere. Almost subtle signs. More obvious than in New Orleans, but there was very little activity. The area was buzzing a bit with movement, but we couldn’t see it. National Guard vehicles were posted up at beach houses up and down Hwy 1. Driving down to the Grand Isle State Park we found that most of the roads were blocked off to all traffic. Every beach access we found had a sign that said “BEACH CLOSED” and many had security vehicles or personnel watching. Police presence on the highway was very obvious.

When we reached the park itself, only one road was open to the public with just about 40 feet of one walkway over the berm open with access blocked by a sign and sheriff’s deputies at the end of the walkway preventing any non-essential personnel from entering the beach.

I shot a few images at this location with both cameras, mostly a shot-by-shot panorama which I’ll post later.

We got back in the car and drove to the other end of the state park where the action was happening. We drove into the parking lot of what looked like the main cleanup staging area for the Island. Police were guiding us around kindly and basically we turned around without stopping.

We left the park, looking for some beach access and found an open beach to the west. The “BEACH CLOSED” sign had been covered with a black plastic bag so on it we went. Upon reaching the top of the berm I was disappointed but also expecting that disappointment. They had opened a beach that had been cleaned and an orange flood protection barrier had been placed at the high-tide line.

Dana and I saw a man and woman walking out at the water’s edge and I stopped to get photos of the pile of oily sand and what I think is an animal cleaning station. Perhaps two minutes had passed since we’d stepped onto the beach, that sheriff’s deputies drove up on four-wheeled ATV’s.

The couple who had been walking out along the water had crossed back over the orange barrier and were walking back up the beach towards the berm. I asked the man what he’d seen out in the water and he replied “there are a lot of nickel and dime-sized tar balls everywhere.”

In a very gracious and kind manner,the deputies on ATV’s instructed us that we could “enjoy the beach all you want, but do not cross the orange wall.” When they left, a pickup truck with two security personnel inside pulled up and watched us continue taking photos. As soon as we left the beach and crested the berm, the security truck had left and we were still being watched by the deputies from a few hundred feet away.

We returned to the car and drove back west, heading off the island but looking for more access to the beaches. From what we could see, every side road that had access to the water on the Gulf side of the Island was blocked by a police car.

I was kind of mentally prepared to be allowed access to a cleaned beach but when I saw it, I felt a bit more let down. Not only was it sterile, but it was abandoned, save for the security personnel making rounds. The people working were at the farther end of the Island at the State Park and we couldn’t even stop to ask questions there. It seemed like a very efficient method to control the amount of  information leaving the scene and the public image of how the operation is going.

National Guard vehicles parked behind one of the beach houses at a beach access point.

Walkway to the beach at Grand Isle State Park.

Pile of oily sand.

View from the car of the cleanup operation at the east end of Grand Isle State Park.

Most beach access points on Grand Isle are labeled “BEACH CLOSED.”

Cleanup location ‘Zone 10.”

Cleaning station with the orange flood protection barrier.

Cleanup location.

My next visit to the coast, wherever it is along the Gulf, hopefully will be a longer one with some real time to ask questions of workers and locals. We had a very limited amount of time to get there, find the beach and shoot some photos before Dana had to return home.

NOLA, more day two

2010/06/18

This is Chef Clayton Kendrick of the French Market Restaurant, located at the corner of Decatur and St. Philip streets.

I interviewed Chef Clayton a few hours ago about the oil spill and the effect it’s having on the oyster business in New Orleans.

“Right now, the oysters are there. They’re fresh, and perfectly good. What we’re battling right now is a mis-perception that people are thinking the oysters are all bad. The oyster beds in area 1, down by Hopedale are sheltered from the oil in the Gulf currents, so they are just fine.”

Chef Clayton went on to describe how the perception has caused the fishermen who harvest the oysters to contract their boats to BP for cleanup efforts. “The men who dredge for oysters are worried about their livelihood and feeding their families, you can’t blame them for that.” He said, describing how many boat crews have begun working for BP to make money cleaning up oil.

Like the domino effect that happens in the ecosystem when a part of it is disturbed, the oil spill has already cut into the seafood industry. The public is under the assumption that most of the seafood is tainted with oil; the workers who fish are worried that the restaurants will lose patrons and so find other means of collecting revenue, namely oil cleanup operations, funded by BP; the restaurants lose business because of the public mis-conception and the further scarcity and rising price of goods such as oysters. Around and around they go in a kind of spiral which threatens one of the most important industries in the region and in the country.

NOLA, day two

2010/06/18

Last night was concluded with a search for a lizard or gecko that had slipped into my place just after I returned from taking a few photos. the search ended in futility and only exhausted me a little more.

High temperature today will be in the mid-90’s with humidity over 70%. It feels well above 100 degrees outside. I’ll be out shooting soon enough.

Here’s a wide-angle look up-river from the riverwalk just a few hundred yards from the New Orleans Cathedral in the middle of the French Quarter.

This is the view of the Cathedral from the river wall at about 1 AM. The river is to my back.

Turning right is a landmark that goes without introduction.

The Cafe DuMonde. No, I’ve not been there but the call of a beignet is strong. Maybe I’ll stop there  before I leave.

So, I need to step it up with the photos and contact-making. I brought a full portable strobe kit & I intend to use it. I also brought my film camera with my last two rolls of Kodachrome that I’ll ever shoot & develop. I have to make those count too.

NOLA, still day one here

2010/06/18

It’s a while before midnight & the cafe Envie stays open until midnight, so here I am. Just a little update on a few things I’ve learned.

Venice, down south on the peninsula, is one of the big places in the region for animal rescue. I talked to a lot of people today about the oil floating around out there and everyone I spoke to sounded disgusted and some even sounded worried. I guess I would be too. The most interesting person I spoke to though is a woman who’s landlord is rescuing birds down in Venice. For some reason (health exposure?) the workers there are doing one week shifts on and two weeks off. I’m going to try to get down there & shoot some of the operation going on.

I haven’t had a chance to do any photo editing yet, but I’ll try to have some up tomorrow morning. No oil yet, but some of New Orleans. This weekend and early next week I should be able to get down to the gulf & get some photos of the direct toll of oil. Aside from that I’m going to be interviewing folks here in town & in the area who are affected, possibly just as much, but just not covered in oil.