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Horn Island private landowners says pristine environment is severely damaged
If private landowners on Horn Island off the coast of Mississippi were once immortalized by songwriter Jimmy Buffet as 'nibbling on sponge cake and watching the sun bake,' they've lost that luxury thanks to the disaster caused in the Gulf of Mexico this year by BP and other corporations responsible for the DEEPWATER HORIZON crisis, said attorney Stuart Smith.
But even worse than the damage caused to the island's once pristine environment may be the 'remediation' activities BP is conducting on the private properties on Horn Island, especially because the State of Mississippi plans to use marketing grants from BP to promote Horn Island for eco-‐tourism.
"To date, BP has never requested, nor received, permission from private landowners to drive BP's heavy equipment across, nor to excavate upon, the private land. BP has also failed to provide the private landowners with any studies or reports on what BP has done or what it is doing to the island. Given the secluded nature of BP's activities, it is difficult to monitor what is actually taking place," said Mr. Smith. Attorney Smith said BP did drag five 4,000-‐pound
German Beach Tech machines across private lands on the fragile barrier island, which is part of Jackson County, without owner permission.
"Not only have my clients been the victims of a crime, but this is akin to the perpetrators going to the crime scene and attempting to cover it up before investigators determine the extent of the damage," said Mr. Smith.
"Our independent researchers and scientists have confirmed that if the sea grasses on Horn Island are lost, resulting in the loss of fisheries' nursery habitat, the damage would be irreversible." Horn Island landowners filed suit earlier this month in federal court against BP and other responsible parties for the damages incurred to the pristine environment of the island as a result of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. The rivate landowners' suit against BP focuses, in large part, upon the oil spill's adverse effects on the use of the island and its surrounding waters.
Horn Island is part of a run of barrier islands in the Gulf of Mexico, the vast majority of which are owned by the U.S. government, as part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore conservatory.
Media reports have documented that BP repeatedly ran five 4,000-‐pound German Beach Tech machines over Horn Island on nights in September. The machines landed on the island via a large dock BP erected on the western end of the island, and had to cross over the private landowner's property to reach approximately two-‐thirds of the island's land area.
"If BP is allowed access to the property without notice or permission from our clients, they are essentially provided open access to perform a superficial clean-‐up job making it more difficult and costly for plaintiffs to determine the full extent of their damages. This is the classic case of the fox guarding the henhouse," said Mr. Smith.
BP's top man for the Gulf Coast Restoration Organization, Mike Utsler, personally inspected the island in early September, after reportedly waiting for turtles and birds to hatch on the tarred and oiled island damaged by BP in the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. Although Mr. Utsler expressed his pleasure with the cleanup, representatives of the private landowners visited the island at the end of September and found continued evidence of oil on the island and in its lagoons.
"Prior to the Deepwater Horizon explosion in he Gulf, Horn Island was an idyllic, untouched natural paradise, with world-‐class nature trails, abundant wildlife, sea grass, bird watching, and some of the finest fishing and oysters in the world," said Louisiana Counselor Al Robert, Jr., a New Orleans attorney working with Mr. Smith. "The oil washing ashore and the dispersant-‐oil mixture in the water around Horn Island have had a disastrous effect on the environmental attractiveness and ecosystem of Horn Island."
After recent reports suggested that the federal government and impacted Gulf of Mexico states were nearing an agreement on oil clean-‐up strategy, Horn Island attorneys reached out to Admiral T. Allen, Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood, and to the director of the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality to voice concerns and seek a seat at the table, as well as offer the expertise of their attorneys and scientists.
The Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality has confirmed it will work with the landowners' attorneys and researchers to help restore Horn Island and its environs to their appropriately serene and environmentally attractive state.
"This will be especially important in light of Jackson County's recent announcement that it plans to focus on eco-‐tourism as it spends roughly $500,000 in funds it will be receiving from BP," said Mr. Smith. "Horn Island, as the jewel of the Mississippi barrier islands, will play a key role in the county's eco-‐tourism efforts-‐and the anticipated economic boost and recovery which will go long with it."
Besides the famous Buffet song Horn Island inspired, it was also made famous by the noted artist, naturalist, and writer Walter Inglis Anderson, noting its environmental vitality and unspoiled beauty, as well as its unique location in the Gulf of Mexico and the Mississippi Sound.
The private property owners are concerned that the value of their property is forever damaged, as noted by their attorneys, yet BP Fund Administrator Kenneth Feinberg has indicated he will not pay property destruction/diminution claims.
"Because of the recent announcement by the Mississippi Association of Realtors of the $60 million fund set up by BP fund administrator Kenneth Feinberg to compensate realtors for lost commissions on real estate transactions due to the Deepwater Horizon disaster, it is only fair that my clients are offered a payment amount equal to the lost potential sale of their property," said Mr. Smith.