Calhoun community members left in dark about oil

Sara  Sneath By Sara Sneath

March 31, 2014 at 8:01 p.m.
Updated March 31, 2014 at 11:01 p.m.

Cleanup crews contracted by Kirby Inland Marine remove oil-contaminated sand from a 12-mile stretch of south Matagorda Island on Sunday.

Cleanup crews contracted by Kirby Inland Marine remove oil-contaminated sand from a 12-mile stretch of south Matagorda Island on Sunday.

Calhoun County fishermen believe they are not being informed on the effects of the oil that has made its way south from a shipwreck in the Houston Ship Channel.

As the result of this concern, more than 60 fishermen, shrimpers, oyster harvesters and bait-stand owners met with a Port Lavaca attorney Sunday to talk about the situation.

"Obviously, people want to know what's going on because it could affect their livelihood," said Jane Lane, an attorney whose office is in Port Lavaca. "We are looking at this as an investigation."

Lane organized the meeting at her Port O'Connor home after receiving several concerned phone calls from community members.

The 90-minute meeting was about sharing information, gathering information and conducting an investigation, she said. No litigation has been filed at this time.

"Community members are grateful for the cleanup and containment efforts," she said. "We would just like to have a little more input as to what is going on and how it is affecting everybody. If we got information, we wouldn't have had 60-plus people turn up to my house."

The Port O'Connor Community Center became a Matagorda Bay incident command post Wednesday in response to oil headed toward Matagorda Island.

Members of the community attempting to access the public building have been blocked by a Calhoun County sheriff's deputy.

"The fishermen around here think they're hiding stuff," said Johnny Williams, 59, of Port O'Connor. "They've been giving answers like needles in a haystack."

Williams, who is a commercial shrimper and oysterman, said he went to the community center several times to get information and volunteer to help and was given a claims phone number to call. He called the number, and it was disconnected, he said.

On Saturday, Williams and his wife again went to the community center. When Williams attempted to gain access to the community center, he was told to leave or he would be arrested by the deputy on duty, he said.

"They got Coast Guard and everybody in the world down there except the local people," Williams said.

Having a deputy at the door of a command center is routine, said Greg Beuerman, a spokesperson for the Joint Information Center in the Unified Command.

"Responses to these incidents are not public events. Certainly, anyone who has questions will be directed to the right person. Sometimes that person is on site, and sometimes they are not," he said.

Beuerman said local officials are invited to take part in a daily phone call about the response efforts. There are 65 people who represent communities along the Texas Gulf Coast who take part in the call now.

These people are elected officials on the county and city level, county emergency management and port authorities, he said. None of these officials have expressed a desire for a public hearing, he said.

Port O'Connor is an unincorporated community and does not have any elected officials.

Calhoun County has a presence at the command center through Calhoun County Emergency Management office, Beuerman said. While a representative of Calhoun County Emergency Management is present at the command center and receives daily briefings, no one from the office has been on the site of the oil wash up on the Gulf-side of Matagorda Island, said LaDonna Thigpen, emergency coordinator for Calhoun County.

Matagorda County's interests are being represented by Texas Parks and Wildlife and U.S. Fish and Wildlife, Beuerman said.

Matagorda County Judge Nate McDonald said he was contacted when oil moved into the area last week and has continued to receive updates from the regulatory agencies responding to the oil spill.



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