Written by Steve Harrigan, FOX News Channel correspondent who has been reporting live from Grand Isle, Louisiana on the BP Gulf Oil Spill:
There was a two-foot high wall of sand about fifty feet from the water in Grand Isle, Louisiana when I arrived in early June. The beach is open, officials said, but the water is closed. An open beach without water in 90 degree heat. As the weeks went by the beach itself began to look less like a beach and more like an industrial park. Tents were set up and portable toilets were put out on the sand every 400 yards. You could tell everything was being done by a book of rules somewhere, however out of touch that book might be with facts on the ground. The port-a-potties outnumbered the cleanup workers, but there must be some rule about how many or how close they need to be to the workers.
The cleanup workers wore white suits. Some wore gas masks. The higher-ranking ones got three-wheeled vehicles to race up and down the sand. One in a black helmet liked to race by as close as he could to my live shot position. I would be looking in the camera and he would roar by behind my back. A number of the clean-up workers were convicts on work-release programs. There is one grocery store in Grand Isle where the cleanup crews went, and many used Prison ID cards to cash their checks.
Most of the houses along the beach are on stilts. They can move a little bit during the breeze or when a big truck drives by. As I have been in some earthquake areas this alarmed me at first but then did not bother me. Prices of some beach houses have fallen from $600,000 to $400,000 in just over a month, and will likely keep falling. It is hard to sell a house when there is a team of men in HAZMAT suits in your front yard. Rental business, however, is brisk. Most of the renters are media companies or National Guard or cleanup crews.
Grand Isle is famous for fishing. With the fishing closed, the town is largely empty. There is no traffic. You can see the same few local business people interviewed over and over again on tv. Restaurants are empty. I ate shrimp po’boys early on but now distrust shrimp and oysters.
The other factor that keeps getting worse, especially near the coast of Louisiana, is the smell. There is a smell from the oil and maybe from the dispersant that has caused a number of complaints as far away as New Orleans. You can’t see it, and after a few days you might get used to it, but then you may notice a headache, burning eyes or a cough. My team there had all three after a week, and many locals we interviewed complained of feeling sick. With all the attention to the spill, there is not much attention to the fumes, but it should be a factor with anyone considering spending time in an oil-soaked area. There are a lot of unknowns.