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Louisiana residents confront officials at oil spill meeting

By the CNN Wire Staff
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Coastal residents, fishermen demand answers from BP, Coast Guard officials
  • Those affected by spill want plan in writing for compensation
  • BP official says company wants to "make it right"
  • Others express concern over environmental impact

(CNN) -- Frustrations boiled over Tuesday as Louisiana residents hurting financially from the Gulf oil spill confronted BP, Coast Guard and environmental officials at a tense town hall meeting in Plaquemines Parish, where fishermen and tour boat captains have sat idle while thick crude invades the state's shorelines.

One by one, folks approached the microphone set up in the Boothville High School gym to demand answers from the panel about their concerns, ranging from receiving appropriate compensation for financial losses to the continued use of a controversial subsea dispersant in Gulf waters.

Larry Thomas, BP's manager for government and public affairs, acknowledged the tough task at hand, telling the crowd, "There is absolutely nothing I can say from this podium that's going to make you feel better tonight."

"Over the next few months, BP is going to be tested to make it right with you for what has happened," Thomas said. "We regret what has happened. We want you to know that no one has intentionally tried to harm you, but we did. So now we're here."

But that promise wasn't enough for many in attendance, who said they want a contract of sorts that specifically lays out a plan for compensation.

Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser told CNN that his area's constituents are "fed up" with what they say is a lack of action from BP.

"They're wondering if they're ever going to make a living again like their families did for generations," he said. "They've also got to worry about where's the next check coming from to feed the kids, to pay the rent, because BP has not given us a plan.

"Tonight we're demanding a plan. Is it three months? Is it six months? What are you going to do to compensate the people that have lost their livelihood, maybe for many years? We want to know today. We don't want to wait until the end of the month. ... We want a plan in writing. We want to know it's going to be there."

Mike Frenette, president of the Venice Charter Boat and Guide Association, was one of the more outspoken critics, lambasting BP for the slow response to the industry's plight.

"We don't want to hear this anymore [that] 'we're going to make this right,' " he said.

"We appreciate the [immediate] $5,000 check from BP, but ... that doesn't even cover my insurance premiums for the month," Frenette said. "We need to go a step further."

Allen Carpenter, a claims representative for BP, said his company has already serviced more than 25,000 claims across four states and paid out about $30 million.

"That is not the end," he said. "These are intended to be temporary partial settlements for one month."

Carpenter said the next set of checks will be issued for the same amount on June 1, and a third set will pay out a more realistic amount of residents' losses.

Coastal residents will then be compensated monthly as needed, he said to applause from the crowd.

"Our job is to work with you to make sure that your financial impact as a result of this oil spill is recouped and we make you as whole as we can," he said.

Others expressed concern about the spill's environmental impact after thick, heavy crude began washing into the state's marshlands.

"Everything is dying," one woman said. "How can you honestly tell us that our Gulf is resilient and will bounce back, because not one of you up here has a hint as to what is going to happen to our Gulf. You sit up here with a straight face and act like you know when you don't know."

Matt O'Brien, who recently opened a shrimp dock in the area, had more concern for the livelihoods of fishermen after the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration closed nearly 22 percent of the federal waters in the Gulf for commercial and recreational fishing.

"There's fishermen who could be making money tonight," he said. "There are places where oil isn't and people could be fishing. These guys need to work. Not everyone is getting a call from BP to work their boats."