South Mississippians vocal in opposing offshore drilling at DMR meeting

Opponents write, then come to CMR meeting

jphampton@sunherald.comOctober 15, 2013 

Oscar Eskoff talks about one effect of offshore drilling after the monthly meeting of the Commission on Marine Resources.

SUNHERALDCOM

MOSS POINT -- Offshore drilling opponents cited damage to the environment and quality of life and devastating effects on tourism as reasons the state Department of Marine Resources should stop in its tracks a Mississippi Development Authority move toward drilling in state waters.

Their comments came after the Commission on Marine Resources heard an update by DMR on an MDA request to determine if its offshore exploration and drilling rules are compatible with the DMR coastal program. As Willa Brantley

of the DMR Bureau of Wetlands noted, there were a few positive comments among those written ones delivered to DMR. In fact, by an at least a 3-to-1 margin, the commenters wanted the exploration-drilling proposal stopped. MDA has said no one has applied for a permit to explore or drill for oil and natural gas but it is required by the Legislature to offer leases in certain areas of Mississippi waters. Most of those are at least a mile south of the barrier islands, although there are blocks near the shore in east Jackson County and west Hancock County.

There was a packed house for the CMR meeting at the National Estuarine Research Reserve near the Alabama state line and it was apparent many of those people came to hear the drilling presentation.

All four people who spoke in the public-comments portion of the program opposed drilling.

Don Abrams of Ocean Springs called the rules "slipshod, incomplete and wishy-washy."

"I pointed out typos that changed the meaning," he said. "Those that were pointed out weren't fixed."

He also said the potential sites for drilling were being misrepresented as not visible from shore. In fact, he said, some sites could be in the marshes that nurture sea life.

"Everything is not way out in the Gulf where it's not visible," he said.

And he said a section of the rules seems to say any of those rules can be overturned by the executive director of the MDA at any time.

"Nobody apparently has read it," he said.

Oscar Eckoff, a retired scientist from Biloxi, said, "Anything that disturbs Mother Nature is probably bad in the long run.

"We don't care about the future. We live in a finite world -- we only have so much coal, so much oil, so much lignite -- and we are using it up as fast as we possibly can."

Terese Collins of the Gulf Island Conservancy and 12 Miles South Coalition said it's far too soon for the DMR to certify the MDA rules as consistent with the coastal program.

"Maybe you should look at the rules harder to see what's missing, then send them back the MDA for improvement," she said. She also wants a public hearing at night, when more people could attend.

"We are one of the most unique areas in the world and we're going to lose that if we're not careful," she said.

Louis Skrmetta of Ship Island Excursions and 12 Miles South said there are studies that show the effects drilling could have on tourism and he urged the commissioners to look at those studies.

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