Wednesday, June 16

Seizing Leadership: Jamie Hinton Is A Patriot


Although President Obama addressed the nation about the oil spill last night, he neglected to mention one local hero who deserves more attention as a role model for other Gulf Coast community leaders. Jamie Hinton, chief of the Magnolia Springs Volunteer Fire Department, took matters into his own hands to protect his idyllic community off Mobile Bay.

He deployed a combination of barges and oil-blocking booms to keep crude out of the Magnolia River. The Associated Press reported that his solution, which came from the collective ideas of locals hoping to safeguard the Magnolia River and the nearby Fish River, to do something despite being told not to.

"It's illegal to block this waterway. But if the oil comes, we're going to bring a barge in and use it as a gate to block it," said Gib Hixon, friend of Hinton and chief of Fish River/Marlow Fire and Rescue. "They can arrest me and Jamie if they want to."

Unlike many communities on the Gulf Coast, Hinton decided it was his responsibility to do something despite being blocked by red tape and what the Associated Press described as bumbling government and corporate executives. According to the story, Hinton was initially told by county officials that the oil spill was being blown out of proportion. Much of the delay to finally approve the community's plan once it became clear the oil spill was not blown out of proportion, is attributed to a breakdown of who could approve measures to safeguard Magnolia Springs.

"First, the cleanup," said President Obama last night. "From the very beginning of this crisis, the federal government has been in charge of the largest environmental cleanup effort in our nation’s history..."

This single quote from Obama's speech explains the reality and gravity of the situation. It explains why the government attempted to prevent people like Hinton from taking action. It explains why the Norway's offer of eight skimming systems was disapproved. It explains why the Dutch offer of three sets of COSEQ sweeping arms was denied. And Canada's offer of 3,000 meters of containment boom was passed upon too.

In sum, other governments were prepared to respond to this crisis faster than BP and the Obama administration. Why didn't they? Unlike previous administrations, which granted waivers for the Jones Act in the wake of a national crisis, this administration has held fast to the act, which requires vessels working in U.S. waters be built in the U.S. and be crewed by U.S. workers. Meanwhile, other early efforts to clean up the spill were discouraged by environmental policies.

If the oil spill is a "siege," it seems it is a siege of the administration's own making. Fortunately, there are a few communities like Magnolia Springs that have stepped up against the siege to protect themselves while the White House attempts to manage a spill of a different kind. Spin is not enough. We need more Americans like Jamie Hinton. They tend to talk less and then step up.

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