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Local News

Schneider Joins Delegation of Mayors in New Orleans to Tour Oil Spill Area

She says the trip provided an opportunity to glean information relevant to the South Coast

Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider has been checking in on the Deepwater Horizon oil spill cleanup effort from New Orleans this week, as part of a trip organized by the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

With a number of oil platforms situated off the coast of Santa Barbara, she reasoned that the catastrophe was something near and dear to local residents, too.

“People are asking me, ‘Why did you go?’” she said. “Santa Barbara’s 1969 oil spill is still at the forefront of many residents’ minds; there’s concern about spills.”

But there also has been concern about budgetary issues, as the city has faced a significant shortfall while wrangling through this year’s budget numbers. Schneider offered reassurance, pointing out that the trip, which cost less than $1,000, was funded with some of the mayor’s unused travel budget.

Coming at a time when the City Council has a lot on its plate, the trip has been brief, as well. Schneider arrived Sunday night and plans to be back in Santa Barbara in time for Tuesday’s council meeting.

“The most important thing for me to focus on is the city and what’s happening here, but sometimes, it’s also important to get information about what’s happening nationally and tie it in with what’s going on here. This was an opportunity to do that with a very low budget impact,” she said of the daylong tour, which took place Monday.

Focused around Lafitte, a small town near Lake Salvador, about halfway between New Orleans and Grand Isle, Schneider said the trip also was designed to show mayors from around the country collaborative efforts among federal, state and municipal agencies, as well as to more clearly define for outsiders which areas have and have not been affected by the spill.

“They’re trying to get the word out about areas that have not been touched by the spill, but it’s still impacting tourism and fisheries,” said Schneider, explaining that cities such as Clearwater, Fla. — which is located on the Gulf of Mexico but has not experienced any damage from the oil spill — have noticed a plunge in tourism dollars. “There have been huge economic impacts.”

Also attending the tour were mayors from cities around the country, including Long Beach; Houston, Texas; Philadelphia, Penn.; Everett, Mass.; Fort Myers, Fla.; Baton Rouge, La.; and many others from around the Gulf Coast region.

Participants were briefed at the Lafitte Emergency Operations Command Center by Lafitte Mayor Tim Kerner, Coast Guard Incident Commander Capt. Roger Laferriere, and representatives from BP, and then took a tour to view the damaged area by boat.

In addition to structural and procedural information related to incident command, the mayors who traveled to Lafitte were given the opportunity to discuss potential congressional legislation — dubbed Fair Share Legislation — designed to share funds from new oil and gas leases with the four energy-producing states on the Gulf in order to aid oil spill cleanup and coastal protection.

Noozhawk staff writer Ben Preston can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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