Mississippi officials seethe over BP reaction'-based tactics

BILOXI, Miss. — A new long-range government projection that more oil will hit the Mississippi Coast for at least the next few months doesn’t surprise Bay St. Louis, Miss., Mayor Les Fillingame. What does surprise him, 74 days into the BP oil disaster, is the lack of preparation and protection.

“As we speak, there is no more protection for the Bay of St. Louis than we had just a couple of weeks after it started,” Fillingame said Friday, as he watched BP-contracted boat crews in the bay beginning preparations for large “oceangoing” boom that has proved more reliable for stopping oil than the flimsier stuff that’s been strung along state beaches, bays and bayous for months.

A 120-day NOAA model of the oil’s movement released Friday, conducted only after an irate congressman demanded it, shows an “81 percent to 100 percent” probability the area from eastern Louisiana to Pensacola will continue to be hit with oil and tar. Also Friday, a bipartisan group of U.S. senators including Mississippi’s Roger Wicker and Thad Cochran, noting the oil disaster is going to have long-term effects, announced a package of tax breaks and incentives proposed for the Gulf of Mexico oil-disaster area.

Harrison County Supervisor Kim Savant shares Fillingame’s frustration, and now believes the lack of preparation and prevention — heavy boom, skimmer boats — is a decision BP bean-counters made.

“This is just my opinion,” Savant said, “but I think a BP corporate decision was made that it’s cheaper to clean up than to prevent it getting here or detaining it. … We’ve made requests like, ‘Let’s protect these jetties and rocks, because they’ll probably be impossible to clean.’ The responses are, ‘They can be cleaned. They were cleaned after Exxon Valdez with high-pressure hoses.’ Well, the oil is not there yet, so why can’t we try to protect them?”

Fillingame said it appears any prevention is being left to state and local governments.

“The time we spend pushing to get things implemented — that was not supposed to be our part of this process,” he said. “We didn’t know we’d have to get involved in the planning process, or the lack thereof.

“From Day 1, they had told us the real battle would be carried to the oil out in the deep water — skimmed, picked up, burned, everything humanly possible to stop it,” Fillingame said. “But as we’ve watched it progress, hitting the islands, then the beaches. All we’ve seen is reaction after it hits. We tried to learn from Louisiana, their experience when it started hitting there, but here it looks like impending impact, and we’re no more ready than we were seven weeks ago.”

Ocean Springs, Miss., Mayor Connie Moran, who reached the same conclusion many weeks ago that locals were on their own, said her city has gotten a permit for a type of heavy boom, and she’s been pitching it to other local governments.

“Now, we’re just having to implore BP to fund it,” she said, noting it costs about $180 a foot and Ocean Springs alone needs 12,000 feet.

The Senate group’s incentive package includes breaks for small businesses and residents, Wicker said.

“These proposals will encourage investment and tourism along the Coast and support Gulf residents whose livelihoods have been devastated,” he said.

The proposal would allow tax deferral for small-business reimbursements that are reinvested in oil-disaster area trade. It would extend the tax net-operating-loss carryback period to five years, meaning companies could receive tax refunds by applying their losses to the past five years’ tax returns.

It would also allow hardship access to retirement savings — in some cases tax-free — for those hurt financially by the spill. Where taxable, people would be allowed to claim the income over 3 years.

The proposal would create a spill-recovery zone job-creation tax credit, allowing a 40 percent credit on up to $6,000 of first-year wages paid to employees in targeted groups. It would also allow small businesses to expense buildings and other structures and improvements and would create new-markets tax credits in targeted areas, similar to what was done after Hurricane Katrina.

The bill would also provide federal assistance to allow states and local governments to reduce hotel taxes to spur tourism.

Other oil-disaster news:

—The Coast Guard has created a new “safety zone” rule and warns that anyone coming within 65 feet of any response vessel or boom on the water or beaches will face a felony arrest and fine up to $40,000. This is prompting complaints from media outlets, who say the rule could make it hard to document the oil disaster. Retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen said the rule is a safety measure and that BP had not prompted it.

—Oil and tar continued to hit barrier islands, but Ship Island Excursions said Friday it is still ferrying visitors to Ship Island.

—Keesler Air Force Base has announced it has joined the oil-disaster response operation, providing logistical support to the Mississippi National Guard. The base will house 50 Mississippi National Guard infantry soldiers, recently returned from Iraq, to support oil-disaster response.

—The oil-disaster command center said 428 miles of shoreline have been “oiled,” including 52 miles in Mississippi, and 259 miles in Louisiana. About 80,228 square miles of Gulf federal waters are closed to fishing. The command said 42,700 people are employed cleaning and trying to protect Gulf shorelines, and more than 7,000 vessels.

The Associated Press / Geoff Pender