DEAD DOLPHIN TALES Rescuers have found an unusually large number of baby dolphin carcasses washed up on Gulf Coast beaches. So far, scientists have tallied a total of 67 dead dolphins along the coast.
The Institute for Marine Mammal Studies has seen an unusually high number of strandings also. The non-profit institute, which is based in Gulfport, Miss., issued a press release on Friday, Feb. 25 that stated the total count for the year now stands at 34 strandings in Mississippi and Alabama, with 27 of these involving calves. Strandings occur when marine mammals or sea turtles swim or float into shore and become “beached” or stuck in shallow water. This is about ten times the number normally found washed up along those two states during this time of the year.
Capt. Mark Stewart, who owns two oyster boats and two shrimp boats that are based on the Mississippi coast, told the IN, “Dolphins are washing up constantly. Most are on Horn Island.”
Stewart said that he had heard rumors that BP search teams are being sent out to gather the dead dolphins before they reach shore. He also said, “Tar balls by the ton are washing up on the Gulf islands.”
Stewart’s family has fished the gulf waters for generations. He is concerned that BP and the state and federal governments no longer care about the commercial fishing industry.
“They are sweeping us under the rug,” said Stewart. “They’ve ruined our lives and want us to just go away. The government keeps lying about it. I don’t like Obama, but I don’t like our Governor Haley Barbour even worse. He is the crookest snake of them all. He was in BP’s pocket long before he became governor. Now he wants to be president.”
He believes that all Barbour and his administration care about is the Mississippi coast casinos, not the commercial fishermen. “They have tried to brand us a small group of disgruntled fishermen, saying we’re just trying to milk BP for more money,” said Stewart. “We didn’t ask for BP’s money. We didn’t ask them to poison our fishing grounds.”
BEHIND TANKER MISFIRE Pensacola stepped up to help push Mobile, Ala. to get the largest Air Force contract in history, $30 billion to build the next generation of tankers to refuel military planes in mid-air. Mississippi helped, too, but it was all for naught.
In the Captain’s Room at the Atlas Oyster House, local elected officials and businessmen gathered Thursday, Feb. 24 to hear live the announcement on whether Boeing or Northrop Grumman/EADS North America would be awarded the contract. Two years ago, the Air Force awarded the contract to Northrop Grumman/EADS, which had agreed to establish a plant in Mobile to build the air tankers. Boeing appealed, forcing another solicitation.
The mood at the Atlas was cautiously optimistic. Jim Hizer, president/CEO of the Pensacola Bay Area Chamber of Commerce, said he had heard that there was a 75-percent chance that Mobile would get at least half of the contract. Escambia County Administrator Randy Oliver said that he had heard the Air Force was going to “split the baby” and award half to Boeing.
Collier Merrill, chairman of the Pensacola Chamber, said, “We want this contract. Let’s don’t play with this another year. We need jobs. Yes, other regions need jobs, too, but they have not gone through the hurricanes and oil spill like we have.”
Five minutes before the scheduled announcement, Merrill, Mayor Ashton Hayward and Hizer were called outside by Collier Craft, a consultant who led a coalition of chambers and business leaders from across the Gulf Coast region who supported the Mobile tanker bid. In a matter of seconds the optimism that filled the Atlas evaporated.
“Boeing won the contract,” said Merrill, when he walked back into the room. “I don’t know what happened. We all worked tirelessly on it, and we know we have the best work force.
“I’m shocked quite frankly that we didn’t get it.”
Mayor Hayward tried to stay positive. “This will make us work that much harder to make something happen on the Gulf Coast,” said Hayward. “We have shown that we can work together regionally.”
County Commissioners Wilson Robertson, Grover Robinson and Gene Valentino were also at the Atlas. Robertson and Valentino expressed disappointment, but remained optimistic about the future.
Robinson echoed Hayward’s thoughts. “For the first time ever, we are seeing a more regional approach,” said Robinson. “We have learned that we can work together.”
MORGAN BLASTS SCOTT Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan has written Gov. Rick Scott making it clear that he believes the newly-elected governor has been getting “less than stellar advice” on his first budget.
Morgan told Scott that he can’t approach governance like it’s a hostile corporate takeover. “The public sector is not about making a profit,” wrote Morgan.
He recommended that the governor compile a list of agencies and tasks performed, then delineate “want vs. need.” Morgan, who served on Scott’s transition team, is concerned about the discussions in Tallahassee to eliminate the Florida Highway Patrol, an agency Morgan wrote was “the flagship law enforcement agency for the state.”
Morgan also criticized talk of cutting funds for the Department of Children and Families. While it may draw applause with certain audiences, Morgan questioned whether such a budget decision might be counter-productive in protecting children and would simply push the costs down to the counties.
The Sheriff wrote that while the recommendations to reduce the budgets of FHP, DCF and state hospitals may help balance the state budget, the need for those services cannot be eliminated.
“This current approach is a little akin to making the observation that ‘my house has never caught on fire, so therefore I have no need for fire insurance. Let’s cancel it,’” wrote Morgan. “Our house is on fire, Governor. Others and I stand ready to lend a semblance of sanity by forming a fire brigade.
“We must seek, identify and implement alternative approaches. I fear that many of the current initiatives will only result in long-term devastating outcomes.”