June 12th, 2010
08:00 AM ET

Letter to the President #509: 'What if it were your town?'

Tom Foreman | BIO
AC360° Correspondent

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/TRAVEL/06/11/oil.spill.beaches/t1larg.gulf.shores.gi.jpg caption="A single season of no shrimp, no fish, no oysters, no tourists, and yes…no oil jobs…and some of these towns will fall apart like a lean-to in a gale." width=300 height=169]

Reporter's Note: BP’s spill is undeniably a terrible thing; but beyond fish and birds, what may be in grave peril is a way of life…poised to truly be wiped away forever. The question in my daily letter to the White House, is that something we can accept?

Dear Mr. President,

Did you ever have an insurance company total a car on you? If you really like the vehicle, it’s not a nice experience. You’ve put your sweat, money and care into it for years, keeping it clean, parking as far as you can from potentially nicking doors, and insisting the kids can’t so much as munch a cookie in the back seat. Then a hailstorm comes along, some adjuster looks at the mileage, and suddenly your treasured ride becomes just a check in the mail.

Having spent the week on the Gulf, that’s what I fear is going to happen to some of the little communities down there. They’re going to be totaled. Oh sure, BP says it will pay for reparations and you say you’ll hold them to it, but too many little towns are barely hanging on in this economy as it is. Telling them, “When it’s all over, the oil guys will pick up the tab,” misses the point.

A single season of no shrimp, no fish, no oysters, no tourists, and yes…no oil jobs…and some of these towns will fall apart like a lean-to in a gale. They exist now only because some people call them home and are willing to fight for them, against mosquitoes, hurricanes, heat, and floods. That is why so many on the Gulf are screaming that the current methods of reparation are just not working. Simply put, what they want is to be paid by BP precisely what they would have made on their own muscle and determination if the oil had not spilled; and they want to be paid that amount until the day comes that the coast is whole again.

Because unless that part of the equation is worked out, some won’t make it through the summer, let alone over a longer time. Make no mistake: As you read this, this spill is rapidly putting an entire, treasured portion of the country; a living cultural treasure, in genuine danger of destruction. As I rode back to New Orleans from the shore this week, I passed dozens of little family businesses with signs saying, to paraphrase, “Closed by BP’s mess. No shrimp, no crabs, nothing to sell.”

And I just want to let you know, because I know these people from my long association with and love of Louisiana, if these people go…they will never come back.

Like a good shrimp po-boy, it’s something to chew on.


Follow Tom on Twitter @tomforemancnn.

Find more of the Foreman Letters here.

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