NRDC Opens Gulf Resource Center to Help Residents Make Their Voices Heard

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On Thursday, I attended the opening of the NRDC Gulf Resource Center in Buras, Louisiana—a small town not far from the "end of the road" on the Louisiana delta.  NRDC has created the center with our local partners at the Gulf Coast Fund to help communities, individuals, and journalists, come together and respond to the BP oil disaster.

The center offers a gathering space for Gulf residents and local groups and a way for NRDC to provide open-door access to our science, health, policy, advocacy, and communications expertise.  We hope other experts and media staff will use it as a place to come together. There are many stories that are real and important and need to be told honestly and directly.

NRDC wants to make sure a catastrophe like this never happens again. But change only occurs when people demand it, and in order to generate a groundswell of support, people across the country need to understand what this spill is doing to communities here in the Gulf—to their livelihoods, their local economies, family traditions, beaches, and wildlife and landscapes they depend upon.

NRDC is here to amplify those stories so they can be heard around the nation and in Washington, DC.

And we will keep the heat on until Gulf residents get answers to their questions, such as: Are crews spraying dispersants in the bay at night? How toxic are the oil fumes and how can people protect their families from the fumes? How does BP do such a good job of keeping oiled beaches and marshlands out of the news? What are the underwater plumes of oil and dispersants doing to the fisheries?  The center, we  hope, can be an incubator for investigative journalism.

At the opening on Thursday, Kindra Arensen, the wife of a fisherman from Venice, Louisiana (just a bit further down the road), said:

All of the people down here have been impacted by this disaster and we need a place where we can get real information and tell people what is really going on down here. We have all been through Katrina and now we have this.  It’s important that we all use this resource center to help us get through this crisis.

As Arensen expressed, this region was already hit hard before the Deepwater Horizon blowout occurred. Buras sits 10 miles north of Venice along Highway 11. The town used to have 15,000 residents, but after Katrina decimated it five years ago, less than 1,000 remain. Overturned cars and blown-out stores—handiwork of the hurricane—line the streets.

Now this community and so many like it must cope with the ongoing assault of the oil spill. The economic, cultural, and ecological fallout will last a long, long time. And so will the pain of seeing a beloved place destroyed.

Michel Gagnier, a Louisiana resident told the crowd that his close friend lives in Waveland, MS, where the beaches were hit by a thick black tide of oil. He said:

I’ve walked these beaches all my life and now they’re ruined. I’m really angry about this oil spill and I'm here to do something about it.

Our hope is that the Gulf Resource Center can help people like Gagnier connect with local efforts to recover from the spill. On Thursday, for instance, we were joined by our partners at the Gulf Coast Fund, as well as representatives from Bayou Grace Community Services, Grand Bayou Community United, Catholic Charities, and a handful of other community groups.

The opening of the center marks the beginning of a dialogue. NRDC wants to hear from residents, and we want to share our advocacy muscle. Together, we can help the Gulf community heal from the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history.