Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The World was his Oyster

Belle Chasse, LA
June 25, 2010

Highway 23 is familiar ground to Rennie Buras. “I’ve gone around the world so many times on that highway,” says the Belle Chasse attorney, who makes the long drive to destinations south over 100 times a year. In addition to his job with the public defender’s office, Buras manages roughly 2000 acres of oyster bed leases in Empire, Buras, and Wilkinson Bay that require his attention and oversight. The spill has closed the beds, but the highway still beckons. Today he’s headed down to the chaotic docks in Venice where one of his three boats, the New York, is being prepared to head out to Barataria Bay to collect oil as part of BP’s Vessels of Opportunity program. “They’re giving you an opportunity to work for them because they took away your way of life. What idiot made this up I have no idea.”

Buras has seen much more of the world than the stretch of Highway 23 from Belle Chasse to land’s end. He is a graduate of Loyola University and George Washington University law school and he spent a year abroad in Madrid, Spain. But he knew the wanderlust would eventually lead him home. “It’s just kind of in your blood,” he says. “My father was an oysterman, and his father. I don’t know how many generations we go back. Five would be a conservative estimate.”

The life of an oysterman is a good one, Buras explains. Good money, no bosses, no formal education required. And then there are the surroundings. “I think a sunrise on the bayou is more beautiful than in Hawaii,” he says. All that’s gone for now. “People are here because they want to be. There’s no Disney, no casinos. The two industries here, seafood and oil, have suffered. There’s nothing else.”

Frustrated and depressed with the failed attempts to stop the oil flow, Buras blames both BP and the government. “We can put a man on the moon, but we can’t plug a hole?” he asks. But he’s angriest about the government’s missed opportunities to protect the coast earlier through restoration. His father and grandfather literally watched the barrier beaches disappear. “I only saw my grandfather cry once, but he would be crying right now.” Buras’s father, who died in 1999, wanted to be cremated and have his ashes sprinkled over the bayou. He didn’t do it because his grandfather protested.  But what if that was now, he wonders. “What would I do? Sprinkle his ashes over oil?”
-Claire Layrisson
Photo: Mary Clayton Carl

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