Southwest residents, state representative visit Gulf

State Rep. Frank Hornstein and three Southwest residents took a trip to the oil-ravaged Gulf of Mexico and are planning a community meeting to discuss what they learned

It’s more than a thousand miles away, but the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is something state Rep. Frank Hornstein thinks everyone, including his constituents in Southwest, should pay attention to.

Hornstein, a democrat seeking his fifth term in office, recently ventured to the gulf with three Southwest residents on what he called a “fact-finding mission.” The group is planning to share what they learned later this month at a community meeting in Linden Hills.

CARAG resident and neighborhood board member Julie Cohen, originally from the gulf, approached Hornstein about making the trip last month after hearing him speak with Sen. Scott Dibble (DFL-60) at an anti-offshore-drilling event in Southwest.

“I actually was impressed by that, that they came out to show support for the Gulf Coast because I think a lot of people miss the connection between what’s happening down there and how that could eventually impact us as Minnesotans,” Cohen said.

She caught up with Hornstein the next day and less than two weeks later, they were off to the gulf with Linden Hills residents and staunch environmentalists Felicity Britton and Tom Braun, who couldn’t turn down the spontaneous offer to join the journey. Everyone paid their own way, Hornstein said, and went with the goal of talking to local leaders, residents, environmental agencies and others to get a real account of the disaster’s impact on the gulf and what it means for Minnesotans and the nation.

“I’ve had a longstanding interest in the issue of reducing our dependency on gasoline, on oil,” said Hornstein, chairman of the House of Representatives’ Transportation and Transit Policy Committee. “I’ve been a lifelong environmentalist as well, so for me, I wanted to go bear witness to what is now becoming widely accepted as the nation’s worse environmental disaster in history.”

The group flew to Pensacola, Fla., a pristine tourist area with sugar-white beaches that made headlines in June when oil from the BP-owned Deepwater Horizon rig, which exploded April 20, reached shore. The area was largely cleaned up when they arrived, but evidence of the spill was everywhere. Signs, booms, quickly-constructed landfills, cleanup equipment and personnel were commonplace.

During their two-day stay, the northern visitors spent hours talking with locals, learning about the community’s frustrations over BP’s handling of the spill, the aching tourism industry, the sliding economy, worries about seafood contamination from oil and dispersants, roadblocks to volunteer cleanup efforts and more.     

“They have not only the environmental impact, but an emotional impact,” Britton said.

She said they were welcomed everywhere by individuals eager to share their situation with the rest of the world. Individuals like Pensacola City Council Member Larry B. Johnson, who met with Hornstein for a couple hours to explain his city’s plight.

“We all live in this world together, so I think it’s important to have a representative come down firsthand to do some fact finding and find out what’s really going on,” Johnson said.

Even though the oil leak has been capped since mid-July and the muck has been largely cleared from Pensacola, there’s still hundreds of millions of gallons in the gulf, a situation that will likely take years to fully recover from, Johnson said. Right now his city is in recovery mode, but his main message to Hornstein was this: “We’re open for business.”

Minnesota’s seafood supply, its oil consumption and its loons that migrate to the gulf are just a few of the local impacts Hornstein wants his constituents to think about.

Britton said she and Braun plan to return soon with their children.

“I think it’s just important for us to show a bit of solidarity to them,” she said.  

Reach Jake Weyer at 436-4367 or [email protected]

Get involved
Southwest residents Felicity Britton, Tom Braun and Julie Cohen, along with State Rep. Frank Hornstein, will host a community discussion about their trip to the Gulf of Mexico and the impact of the oil spill at 7 p.m. Aug. 25, in the space above Wild Rumpus bookstore, 2720 W. 43rd St., #300. For more information, call 925-4249.