Saturday, May 29, 2010

Island’s Trout Rodeo Is Victim of Spill, and That’s Not the Least of It

New York Times National Feed
Published: Saturday, May 29, 2010 at 4:17 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, May 29, 2010 at 4:17 a.m.
GRAND ISLE, La. — The directors of the Grand Isle Speckled Trout Rodeo had sold 500 tickets to the Memorial Day weekend event when the oil washed up on the beach here last week. They had paid for the band and the food, the visors and the door prizes.

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Deborah Sevin watching the motorcade in Grand Isle, La., as President Obama arrived nearby in a helicopter.
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Nicole Bengiveno/The New York Times

So it may be understandable that a visit from the president of the United States, when they would ordinarily have been out on the water fishing for the Big One, seemed like small consolation for the closing of the beaches, the sudden decline in their real estate values — and the cancellation of their 14th annual rodeo.
“Do you think the fish are out there or what?” Jim Tatum, 52, a civil engineer from Baton Rouge, asked Friday, starting wistfully out at the gulf from the deck of the Bridge Side Marina at 8 a.m.
“The moon is full, the tide is running and I’m sick,” replied Bob Sevin, 72, who serves as the president of the rodeo, which raises money for scholarships and civic improvements on this seven-mile stretch of barrier island.
All was not necessarily lost. So far, no one had taken Mr. Sevin up on the offer to refund the price of their tickets. And to recoup expenses, he had decided to go ahead with the party planned for Saturday night, without the fish. If they were lucky, they would sell a few more tickets. President Obama, perhaps?
A retired chemical engineer who was born and raised here, Mr. Sevin has walked the beach every morning since the crude oil from BP’s leaking offshore well first appeared. A crew of about 30 hired by BP worked diligently to clean it up, he said, but more oil washed up each morning faster than they could whisk it away.

As it happened, the day before Mr. Obama was set to visit, a crew of perhaps 300 reinforcements arrived to speed the effort. For that, at least, Mr. Sevin was happy to see the motorcade whiz by the summer home he shares with his wife, Joyce, at midmorning.
His worst fear, he said, is that BP is not moving fast enough to clean up its mess in the marshes where the young fish hide from predators, leading to the loss of a whole generation.
Mr. Sevin’s daughter-in-law, Deborah Sevin, has a different fear.
“My worst fear is that this won’t be cleaned up in his lifetime,” said Ms. Sevin, who had planned a trip from Texas with her husband and children so that they could participate in the rodeo. “If there’s no fish, there’s no Grand Isle, and if this is a ghost town, then what is the rest of his life?”
To pass the time, Ms. Sevin’s husband, Brian Sevin, shot baskets with his son and son-in-law. With no one lining up for bait, Rene Vegas, the owner of the marina, had time to explain the finer details of a trout rodeo to the members of the news media pursuing the president.
“You don’t ride the fish,” he admonished. “You just go out there and catch the biggest.”
All but three of the 65 slips in the marina were empty, and two of those were Mr. Vegas’s. Despite the 90-degree weather, it felt like winter on the island, instead of the start of summer, when the population of 900 swells to nearly 5,000.
Still, by 1 p.m., when the rodeo contestants — last year there were more than 1,000 — would have been heading back to shore, Mr. Vegas at the marina called Mr. Sevin with good news: He needed more rodeo visors.
Tickets to the fishless fish rodeo party were selling.

An hour later in their kitchen, the Sevins watched the president on CNN when he spoke from the Coast Guard station at the end of the island. Anyone, he pledged, could pick up the phone and reach him if they felt there was a bottleneck in the cleanup, or if they needed to deliver a suggestion.
Mr. Sevin picked up his telephone.
“O.K.,” he said to the television. “What’s your number? We need help.”
The Grand Isle rule, he often reminded visitors, is that you must leave your troubles at the foot of the milelong bridge that connects the island to the mainland.
But there is another rule. You have to pick them back up when you leave. Soon after, Mr. Obama’s motorcade passed again, this time heading back over that bridge.


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