Then they tell me that they are starting to wonder if, just maybe, BP (which wants to cut its losses), the Gulf Coast tourism industry (which wants folks to come back) and local, state and federal governments (which want to make BP and the tourism industry happy) are conspiring to convince us that the Gulf, as President Obama announced, is safe and "open for business."
Now, these are not normally excitable people — OK, a few are, but not to the point of throwing reason to the wind. They are just folks who see and hear things that don't quite make sense.
They have been told by the Coast Guard that "dispersants are only being used over the wellhead in Louisiana." But back in the summer, I got a report from the captain of a ship off the Panhandle who had seen night flights by big C-130 cargo planes spraying stuff, and the next day he saw blobs floating 1 to 3 feet below the surface. When he tried to get into the drop zones so he could say, "yes, I saw the dispersant make the oil sink, and it's not gone," he was turned away by the Coast Guard.
More recently, The Destin Log wrote of a "mystery dispersant" being sprayed at night from C-130 aircraft, and about how people who were near the spraying were getting sick.
When asked about this, the Coast Guard and the Deepwater Horizon Response Unified Command — which is supposed to be running everything — assured everyone that "no dispersants were being used in Florida waters," but it added that if C-130s "were being used here to spray dispersants, then the Unified Command didn't know about it."
Is someone spraying and not telling the Unified Command?
Who would do such a thing? Who can do such a thing?
Not long after BP capped the well, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced that "at least 50 percent of the oil that was released is now completely gone from the system and most of the remainder is degrading rapidly or is being removed from the beaches." Federal waters were reopened for fishing, Gulf seafood was announced safe for consumption, and it seemed that for most of the Coast, the crisis was over.
However, there were doubters. Scientists and coastal residents claimed that subsurface oil, driven down by dispersants sprayed at night from those big planes, was lurking out there, killing everything it touched and waiting to come ashore.
BP and its allies said no it wasn't and began laying off cleanup workers and closing down the vessels of opportunity. BP also rejected damage claims from people living along Orange Beach's inshore waters — Cotton Bayou, Terry Cove and Bayou St. John — who said subsurface oil had come in through Perdido Pass and was contaminating the marshes.
Then, a few days ago, oil washed up on Baldwin County beaches. Not little tar chips, but ugly, tide-line-staining oil.
Where did this come from?
According to Coast Guard officials, it came from — get ready — subsurface oil. The stuff that was not supposed to be there had been churned up and washed ashore by a tropical depression.
The same stuff Orange Beach folks claimed was seeping into the bays and bayous and marshes.
Now you can see why coastal residents are coming to believe there is a massive cover-up by BP, tourism officials and whatever government agency happens to be handy.
BP says there is no subsurface oil out in the Gulf or washed into Alabama's bayous and marshes.
Yet, subsurface oil has washed up on Orange Beach and has gotten through Perdido Pass.
The Unified Command says that despite reports to the contrary, dispersants are not being sprayed off the Florida coast; however, it adds that if there is spraying, "then the Unified Command didn't know anything about it."
Could there have been spraying and those who should know didn't know?
Then Obama and his family came for a 27-hour visit and announced that everything is hunky-dory down there.
However, the president was way east over near Panama City, not in Orange Beach, and for lunch he had a fish taco, not raw oysters from Escambia Bay or shrimp from Louisiana.
Then came news that scientists at the University of Georgia and the University of South Florida estimate that nearly 80 percent of the oil from the spill is still out there.
So, whom do you trust?
Meanwhile, Cousin Benny reports that his favorite New Orleans café has taken seafood off its menu. It now serves a "Swamp Platter": Fried Gator, fried crawfish, fried frog legs.
Benny says it's good, but it just ain't the same.
That's what some folks are saying about the Gulf.
Harvey H. ("Hardy") Jackson is Eminent Scholar in History at Jacksonville State University and a columnist and editorial writer for The Star. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.