This article appeared in the Standard-Times of New Bedford, Massachusetts, on 6/21/03
Page A6, Opinion; Copyright 2003 by Beth David

Oil cleanup bosses should lighten up on locals

The supervisors working on the oil cleanup sites wear red shirts. They patrol the coastline, quick to shake a finger and call out a harsh word to anyone who dares to walk the beach. This open letter is to them.

Dear Clean Harbors' supervisors and sub-contractors: All ye who wear the red shirts, lighten up, please. We are all going to be here awhile.

Do you know that in New York City, the police officers guarding the World Trade Center site were more polite and professional than you are being? We are not criminals, and this is not a terror site, although you seem intent on terrorizing the locals.

This is not even a city, although it occasionally smells like the New Jersey Turnpike when the No. 6 oil gets into the air.

This is Fairhaven, Mass., a small town with a big history. Do you know that's our tourism slogan? We are a wonderful place perched at the edge of the Atlantic, where the police chief greets us by name and the fire chief instantly breaks out into a cold sweat if you use the phrase "nice, little hurricane."

Please remember, Red Shirts, you are on my beach. I am not taking pictures to catch you at something. Lots of us take pictures, although it's usually of the birds or the water. I admit it's not usually pictures of bucket-loaders and cranes hauling rocks away. You don't understand, I guess. But you've taken one of my favorite sitting rocks. You've removed the sand and are replacing it with other stuff that is presumably sand. I don't know for sure because you won't let me get close enough to actually touch it. I do know it's the wrong color, and it has no quahogs or soft-shell clams or spat.

What's spat? Spat is the microscopic beginnings of shellfish life. Maybe you don't know about spat, though. To you it's just sand and rocks, not the habitat of fish and the livelihood of those who catch fish.

Remember that this is a beach, not a parking lot in East Boston, although it sounds like one now. It is not just any beach, either. It is my beach.

I've been coming here since the early '60s, which reminds me, I'm older than many of you, so show a little respect.

Take a lesson from your white-suited subordinates. They smile, say "good morning, ma'am," and tell me to watch my step out of concern, not a misguided power trip.

Some of them even ask if I'll take a picture of them, and I do. Every time.

I have never refused and I've always managed to find them later and give them copies. We get along OK, the White Suits and me.

So lighten up, Red Shirts. We are all going to be here awhile.

You are lucky the weather has been so lousy lately. Wait until school lets out! Then what will you do? Carry shotguns? You freaked when I dug up a few tar balls on my beach. I wanted to be able to tell my 7-year-old nephew if it's OK to dig and bury his brother. It is not.

I wouldn't know that if I had not dug down a few inches on our favorite beach.

Why did that upset you so much? The beach was not closed -- no signs, no yellow tape. Do you think no one digs on the beach? And don't sic the DEP (Department of Environmental Protection) on me (they wear blue shirts). This letter applies to them as well. You both insult me by telling me it's a hard-hat area. If that's true, then give me a hard hat. But when I'm 45 feet away from the action, I don't need one, and you know it. And don't forget, I have the pictures to prove it.

So take it easy, Red Shirts and Blue Shirts. Remember why you are here.

Remember that the locals are upset, hurt, angry and horrified -- sometimes all at once. It's a job to you. It's our back yard.

Just lighten up a little. This is going to take awhile. Try to enjoy your stay.

Beth David is a freelance writer living in Fairhaven.