Focus on our environment is admirable

About thirty people showed up in Gibson last week to hear about plans for their town’s future, as a long-standing business tries to get a permit for handling of radioactive material that naturally occurs but which can be problematic when it’s concentrated on one object or in one place.

It’s called Naturally Occurring Radioactive Material, and the numbers show that if MARS Cleaning LLC is allowed to remove it from old oilfield pipes and other debris at their scrapyard – where they handle now but which they must hire other people for the removal part – the concentrations would show up as lower than the radon readings under some buildings.

Tony Authement, the manager of the site, is to be credited for doing something a lot of industry people don’t do here. When a reporter called him he answered all questions and was an open book. This allowed us to tell what we believe was a fair story about a matter of community concern. He also agreed to come to the open house at the gym, which was organized by Councilwoman Arlanda Williams. Patiently, he explained his position to an occasionally hostile crowd.

But the point is that he came and spoke plain English to folks.

No matter which way the council votes on the permit, nobody can say at this point that there was no opportunity for information.

Councilwoman Arlanda Willams and Councilan Darrin Guidry both took time out of their schedules to make the event last Thursday. It is a good example of the work council members do which they don’t always get credit for, and we congratulate them for taking the time and the trouble. It might have been nice to see other council members present, since they have to do the voting. But if the open house was any indication, then we have no doubt questions they have will be answered during the final hearing on this matter in council chambers.

And they would have read what we published in the paper, which we hope is a help, too.

What we think really matters here, however, is something that goes beyond MARS, beyond Gibson, and beyond Terrebonne Parish. It is that we saw members of a community come together to express concerns and to harvest answers to their questions, utilizing their time, which is also valuable. Too often today when it comes to matters of the environment, people allow themselves to be painted into little uncomplimentary squares. Political generalizations run rampant. We have even had elected officials in our community who have – at the cost of their credibility – sided with the most unscientific of extremists and declared global warming to be a hoax.

The fact of the matter is that climate change matters. Every ounce of every substance that could be harmful to human beings that we pump out of the earth, pump into the earth, or spew into our air or water has a consequence. We have high tolerance for a lot of this because we are a collection of communities that depend heavily on the oilfield. It is too easy for us to say, sometimes, that we will ignore the potentials for disaster that may exist, or that we won’t challenge potential affronts to our ecosystem because to do otherwise would damage commerce.

Each individual request must be judged on its own merits, not on some conclusion of how we should feel if we are to avert financial disaster.

For all of that to work appropriately, communities must do just what the people in Gibson did, which is to ask questions and if necessary demand answers. Owners and managers of companies need to know that if you wish to make change within our communities, you must come prepared to answer those questions. Your fear of being taken out of context is much greater than our fear of ill health. Work closely with the media here locally and they will give you a fair shake and help get your message out at least as strongly as the message of your opponents is getting out.

There was a time when nobody in these parts bothered to challenge. Our marshes, our water in some places, our earth, are the less because of it.

The turnout in Gibson is a good sign that change is on the horizon, that we are entering a new era of accountability. We encourage more scrutiny of more projects in the future. •