BUCKSPORT — The Gulf of Maine has a golden opportunity for extensive revitalization coming as Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins return to Washington. About $990 million will be available to resurrect our legendary coastal fisheries and environmental richness.

But they must champion these proposed new funds in different bills written in response to two great disasters in our sister Gulf, as the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina has arrived, and BP’s criminal negligence has been capped off (maybe).

I remember watching a band of New Orleans musicians sway solemnly by vast acres of stacked caskets filled with their forebears’ remains. I wondered how all this beauty had evolved. I remember thinking that of course the levees would protect them – they were built by the Army Corps of Engineers, after all.

I also watched Hurricane Katrina slowly evolve from a totally predictable hurricane into one of the deadliest – and most costly – natural disasters in U.S. history. It claimed almost 2,000 lives, most of which were salvageable, as people cut through their roofs or scrabbled through dark and dirty waters to escape, or died in the dark in hospital beds.

Katrina converted more than 100 square miles of coastal wetlands into open water, further devastated a very rich but tattered ecosystem and left the region even more vulnerable to the next disaster.

This came in May when the BP Deepwater Horizon oil rig blew up, killing 11 workers and spitting out 4 million barrels of black goo. Tar-balls washed ashore and were scooped up in “made-for-TV” staged events. BP executives smirked out loud.

Many millions of barrels now remain underwater and unaccounted for. They have killed marine life from microorganisms up the food chain to charismatic seabirds.

Mainers can intimately relate to our Southern cousins. We all have a strong connection to the water through our fishermen and tourism-related businesses. We relate to the devastation in their Gulf. After the recent spill, numerous Mainers – including Coast Guard personnel, environmental cleanup companies, government officials, wildlife biologists, and many others – traveled to the Gulf Coast to help with cleanup efforts.

Twenty million people’s livelihoods were destroyed, and BP gave itself huge profits, while hardworking Americans were given economic and health care death sentences, with no possibility of bailout.

The Mississippi River Delta is one of the country’s most important ecosystems with hundreds of marine and bird species, key navigable waterways.

Unfortunately, the entire regional ecosystem was in crisis long before Katrina and BP-government malfeasance. Decades of misuse for oil and gas, and inadequate levees built for flood control weakened the natural wetland barriers, setting the stage for disaster long before 2005.

Fortunately, Congress now has a unique opportunity to create long-term solutions for restoring the Gulf Coast through the Clean Energy Jobs and Oil Company Accountability Act.

Dedicated funding will provide for restoration to help bring ecosystems back to health, ensure that all oil companies, including BP, will have to pay for all the damages they cause. Government responses also should be better planned.

These bills will benefit Maine directly with increases in the Land and Water Conservation Fund. As chair of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, Sen. Snowe understands how important it is to protect Mainers whose livelihoods depend on a healthy and resilient coast.

Sen. Collins is also in a strong position to support the legislation, given her role as co-sponsor of recent clean-energy and jobs legislation.

I strongly urge our senators to support these initiatives. Restoring America’s great waters, from the Gulf Coast all the way to the Gulf of Maine, will protect the people who live there, the industries that local and national economies depend on, and our kindred spirits taking refuge there. The long-term restoration and protection of all America’s coastal wetlands are true national priorities.

 

– Special to The Press Herald