Group targets Gulf dead zone

By Amy Wold, Advocate staff writer
Sep 5, 2007, The Baton Rouge ADVOCATE

When liquefied natural gas companies wanted to use water from the Gulf of Mexico in their processing, people got concerned enough about the possible environmental damages that they got organized.

This “Gumbo Alliance” included environmental groups, the fishing industry, recreational fishermen and more and pressured companies to use an alternative process that would eliminate their concerns.

Now, the group wants to use a similar grass-roots strategy and help reduce the size of the Gulf’s “dead zone.”

“We did it with the LNG (liquefied natural gas) thing,” said Steve Fourrier, a part-time resident of Grand Isle involved with the Gumbo Alliance.

“There’s no reason we can’t make some progress with this issue, knowing it was a different animal entirely,” he said.

The group is starting with a meeting from 1 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Friday at the Community Center, 3811 La. 1, Grand Isle.

Attendees and anyone who wants to stay for the free dinner afterward should contact to Grand Isle Port Commission Director Wayne Keller at or call (985) 787-2229.

The LNG issue was relatively less complicated because it involved one company and one permit at a time.

The “dead zone,” also known as hypoxia, is different because it involves numerous interests, states and a large area of the country drained by the Mississippi River.

Hypoxia occurs when nutrients such as fertilizer, urban runoff and sewage flow into the river and feed the growth of microscopic organisms.

When these organisms die, the fall to the ocean floor and use up oxygen as they decompose. In the summer, these low-oxygen layers of water don’t get mixed in with the more oxygen-rich top layer.

This can create a “dead zone” where oxygen levels are too low to support life.

This summer, the hypoxia area in the Gulf was measured at 7,900 square miles.

Although there has been a national effort and an action plan developed by the Hypoxia Task Force, it has been criticized for not moving forward on reducing the size of the dead zone.

“I think it (the Friday meeting) is clearly a reaction to a correctly perceived lack of action,” said Aaron Viles, campaign director for the Gulf Restoration Network.

Every summer, Viles said, there is a flurry of stories about the size of the dead zone.

“But where are the necessary steps to actually reduce the pollution,” Viles said. “We have to play a role in leading the effort to ratcheting down pollution and that hasn’t happened.”

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