The Battle for Lavaca Bay
On a windy day last March, Diane Wilson planned to sink her shrimp boat in Lavaca Bay, one of the state's most important estuaries and a major nursery for shrimp, oysters and fish. While she loved the Seabee, a 42-foot-long wood and fiberglass trawler with which she had fished for 13 years, she also loved the bay. And she hated what was happening to it.
For four years in the late '60s, the Alcoa plant at Point Comfort had dumped so much mercury in the bay's waters that this February the Environmental Protection Agency declared parts of Lavaca Bay Texas' first underwater Superfund site. Because of the mercury-contaminated sediment, prime parts of the bay are closed to crabbing and fishing. Wilson wasn't sure anyone should be shrimping near the mercury site either, although that wasn't illegal. Not that there had been much of a shrimping season recently. Last season the brown shrimp simply hadn't shown up, possibly due to the freshwater runoff from record rains. But the white shrimp, which thrive on fresh water, had also disappeared. And dolphins, brown pelicans and turtles had been dying in record numbers, although no one knew exactly why.
Diane Wilson had her suspicions, though. Alcoa had been bad enough, but then in 1988 Formosa Plastic of Taiwan began building the world's largest polychloride vinyl plant right next to the Alcoa site. Formosa had destroyed the aquatic life in the creek running behind its plant and had released vinyl chloride, a major carcinogen, into the air.
Since September of last year, Formosa had been discharging contaminated wastewater into the upper bay through a 2,100-foot-long pipe less than a mile north of Alcoa's mercury-laden sediment. To dilute the discharge, Formosa cut through an oyster reef and dug a 12 foot deep basin into the shallow bay at the pipe's end, a basin into which wastewater was sprayed through a diffuser.
Wilson had had enough. It was right where the Formosa wastewater spewed into Lavaca Bay that she wanted to sink the Seabee. Only its mast would protrude, a monument to the bay's suffering. Wilson planned the sacrifice of her trawler to coincide with a floating demonstration of 90 fishing boats that would block the shipping lane into Formosa's Point Comfort docks. She would move out at night. The sinking would require coordination, reasonable weather and a Coast Guard asleep at the wheel.
Since Wilson didn't want to add to the bay's contamination, one of her neighbors removed the Seabee's diesel engine and fuel tanks. But she had a hard time finding someone who would give her crippled boat a tow from her home port of Seadrift to the sinking site. While the bay's fishermen and shrimpers resented the threat of increased pollution, the area's politicians, business and civic leaders and many workers saw Formosa Plastic as the economic savior of Calhoun County. They wanted nothing to do with Wilson and her war.
Actually, "war" wasn't a particularly extreme description of what had been happening. Wilson's boat had been sabotaged twice. Her dog had been shot by someone in a helicopter flying over her rural house. The shop window of one of her Vietnamese allies had been shot out. So had the car window of rancher Marian Traylor, who felt Formosa had ruined her land.
When Wilson first began her battles for Lavaca Bay in 1988, community leaders had offered her jobs and money and urged her to be a "good citizen." As she persisted, some of her neighbors vilified her as an extremist. The Port Lavaca newspaper wrote articles about her lack of community support and about how she had allied herself with professional environmentalists from outside the area. Her sister told her she needed counseling. Her marriage was in bad shape. Even one of her own supporters wondered why she wasn't home with her five children. Sometimes in her dreams she would see a man standing in the doorway with a gun, about to shoot her.
Yet as the 45-year-old Wilson painted the Seabee a virgin white for its last voyage, never had she felt more certain that she was pursuing her destiny. She had filed a legal brief with an administrative judge in Washington to stop Formosa's wastewater discharge. If he ruled in her favor, then a penniless net person, as she called herself, would have shut down a $1.3 billion plant owned by one of the richest men in the world. But she would not count on legal action alone to save Lavaca Bay. She had to do something to attract attention. She had to keep the pressure on, even if it killed her.
You don't have to be a fourth-generation fisherman to understand why Wilson has become such a vigorous defender of Lavaca Bay. Situated about 120 miles southwest of Houston, Lavaca Bay contains the freshwater heart of the 400-square-mile Matagorda Bay system, a natural resource of immense value. One of the eight major bay systems of the Texas coast, Matagorda Bay is the next bay south of Galveston Bay. Matagorda Bay offers an important recreational area for Houstonians who keep second homes there and for those who enjoy its fishing, hunting and beaches. The recreational and commercial fishing alone have been valued at $140 million a year. The bay system is also home to endangered or threatened wildlife, including the whooping crane, bald eagle, brown pelican, piping plover, reddish egret and five species of sea turtle.
Approximately 40 percent of the fresh water of the Matagorda Bay system flows through Lavaca Bay. Its grassy marshes provide a critical nursery for shrimp, oysters, crab and tiny fish and are protected by the state. As salt water flows into the bay and fresh water flows out, the organisms follow salinity gradients into the flats at the bay's head.
Lavaca Bay is thought to have been named by early Spanish explorers for the buffalo that once roamed its banks. Until cuts were dug through the barrier island, Pass Cavallo provided the only entrance into a protected harbor on the central coast of Texas. The French explorer Robert La Salle came through the pass and entered Lavaca Bay in 1684 searching for the mouth of the Mississippi River. Leaving a contingent of men at Garcitas Creek, he set out overland to find New Orleans, but was murdered by his mutinous soldiers. The fort he left behind was wiped out, probably by the Carancahua Indians.
The Carancahuas were noted for their fierceness and their height. The early explorers who measured them found many to be six feet four inches tall. Scientists have attributed their stature to their diet of fresh seafood. They would have a much tougher time surviving on oysters and shrimp today.
"The natural resource that is perhaps most critical to maintaining the integrity of the bay ecosystem is fresh water," declared the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in a pamphlet about Matagorda Bay. "Both the quantity and quality of the fresh water that enters the bay drastically affects various characteristics of the water, which in turn influence the organisms in the water. Any alteration in the flow of fresh water into the bay would result in a change of the natural components of the bay ecosystem and thereby in a change in recreational and commercial potential."
The service was not writing in a political vacuum when it issued this statement in 1980. It was sounding a warning that would go unheeded. In that year, the State of Texas began impounding water from the confluence of the Lavaca and Navidad rivers, Matagorda Bay's most important source of fresh water. With the creation of Lake Texana, the state had another huge lake that it could tout (rather unsuccessfully) for recreational purposes. But it had also created a reservoir for Corpus Christi, which will soon be taking water from the lake, water that otherwise could have gone into Lavaca Bay and the Matagorda Bay system. The other main buyer of water from Lake Texana is Formosa Plastic, which uses up to 15 million gallons a day in its chemical plant.
Other problems afflict Lavaca Bay. (See sidebar, page 10.) The dredging of shipping lanes threatens to stir up the mercury-contaminated sediment left behind by Alcoa and spread it farther into the ecosystem. The cutting of passes through the barrier island affects the entrance and exit of fish and shrimp from the Gulf of Mexico into the bay. Sewage effluent and agricultural runoff into Lavaca Bay have just about wiped out its once abundant oyster beds. And it appears that Formosa wants to continue to expand in the area, possibly on land adjacent to the recently dredged Red Bluff channel, which leads into the Lavaca River.
Some of these problems will be caught in the net of what is certain to be a long, complicated study of Lavaca Bay's mercury problem. In February, with what was surprisingly little fanfare, Lavaca Bay was added to the Environmental Protection Agency's National Priorities List, meaning the site was eligible for Superfund cleanup. That month the Texas General Land Office, the agency responsible for protecting the state's coastal areas, assembled more than 50 scientists for a closed conference to discuss the impact of mercury on the bay and on human health, and the steps needed to clean it up. Then last month, Alcoa and the EPA held community meetings at Point Comfort and created a citizen's commission to create a better flow of information.
These actions were a long time in coming. As early as 1970 the State knew that Alcoa had dumped significant amounts of mercury into Lavaca Bay. But it wasn't until 1988 that the Texas Department of Health issued a public warning prohibiting the taking of fish and crabs from a 2,000-acre area near Alcoa's densest concentrations of mercury sediment.
Despite a sign warning about mercury contamination, people still fish from the old causeway south of Highway 35. Although a pregnant woman could lose her fetus or have it mentally damaged by eating one fish severely contaminated with mercury, no public health study has ever been done of the people who fish in Lavaca Bay. No warning signs are posted in the water around Alcoa's dredge-spoil island, site of the worst contamination. Not one fishing map has been printed that shows the dangerous area of the bay. (One study indicates that as many as 70,000 acres of the bay might be contaminated.) And if you were to read the Port Lavaca tourist literature, you wouldn't read one inch of copy indicating that there is a problem with the bay.
Although some environmentalists regard Alcoa's mercury as the most serious problem threatening Lavaca Bay, Diane Wilson has been fixated on getting Formosa's wastewater discharge stopped. According to its federal and state reports, which Wilson has become expert in obtaining, Formosa appeared to be having a problem with copper, and exceeded its allowed limits on at least 70 occasions. The importance of that, says Wilson, is what happens when copper meets mercury. In her relentless foraging for documents, Wilson turned up a 1956 study by two British scientists who found that when copper is mixed with mercury in water, the toxicity for certain crustaceans increases synergistically.
If any of this had been noticed by the EPA, it was hardly apparent. In 1990, the agency had proposed to fine Formosa $8.3 million for violations of its hazardous waste permit, a fine that Formosa negotiated down to just shy of $3.4 million, still the largest fine in the EPA's history. But until Diane Wilson raised hell, the EPA was nonetheless inclined to let Formosa build a $1.3 billion plant that would manufacture one of the world's most carcinogenic materials without requiring the company to complete an environmental impact statement. The EPA also allowed Formosa to discharge its wastewater into upper Lavaca Bay despite the protests filed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service.
Though it might be an exaggeration to say that Lavaca Bay is dying, it is undeniably being assaulted by multiple forces. The fundamental lesson contained in the word ecology is that every action taken in a natural environment has the potential to affect everything else in the system. Yet that lesson is continually ignored in our patched together, politicized system of environmental regulation. It was that system that drove Diane Wilson into battle.
Wilson's call to action came in 1988 when she read a newspaper article that listed her home county of Calhoun as among the ten most polluted areas in the country. If Calhoun County -- and through it, Lavaca Bay -- was already polluted with mercury and air discharges, she thought, what would it be like after Formosa spent $1.3 billion expanding its polyvinyl chloride plant in Point Comfort? Governor Bill Clements and Senator Phil Gramm had hailed the plant expansion as an economic boon that would create hundreds of high-paying industrial jobs and offer work to the construction industry. State and local officials had signed off on $230 million in tax abatements. And Gramm and other officials had assured Formosa's owner, Y.C. Wang, a self-made Taiwanese billionaire, that the environmental permit process would be streamlined.
Wilson thought this was a bit much, so she called Houston environmental attorney Jim Blackburn, who had helped Lavaca Bay fishermen on other issues. Would he help her find out about Formosa? Sure, he said.
"By a fluke we got their air permits," recalls Wilson. "People were so flabbergasted. They thought [what we were doing] was a huge plot."
With Blackburn acting as legal advisor, Wilson formed the Calhoun County Resource Watch. As a commercial fisherwoman, she had legal standing in any regulatory action that affected the water quality of the bay. So she, through Blackburn, asked the Texas Air Control Board to review Formosa's air permits.
Wilson figured she was just protecting her home waters. But many people in Calhoun County thought she was sabotaging their future. The backlash took Wilson by surprise. The county judge, the bank president, the head of the chamber of commerce all came by Froggy's, her brother's shrimp processing house at the Seadrift docks, to exhort her. They wanted her to be a "good citizen." One of Port Lavaca's leading citizens suggested that if she got rid of Blackburn she could make some money. Some of them wanted her to move a meeting out of town. But she got her air quality hearing, and she also got some assurances that the monitoring of the county's air quality would be increased and that Formosa would monitor the health of its workers.
But by the spring of 1990, it had become apparent that the supervision of what Formosa was doing was less than diligent. Although Formosa had been fined $244,700 by the Texas Water Commission, and a proposed fine of $8.3 million was in the EPA's pipeline, the expansion of the Formosa plant, it appeared, was going to happen without the bother of an environmental impact statement.
Blackburn began preparing a lawsuit to stop the construction. Diane Wilson went on a hunger strike, the first of three she conducted before deciding to sink her shrimp boat. Blackburn disapproved of the tactic. He was too much of a lawyer to believe in emotional demonstrations. The lawsuit was put on the bottom of a federal docket and has yet to be heard in its entirety. But Wilson's hunger strike helped keep the heat on. Robert Layton, then head of the Region 6 office of the EPA in Dallas, finally announced that Formosa had "volunteered" to have the EPA prepare an environmental impact statement. The document was prepared by a Louisiana contractor with a history of close cooperation with Formosa. In the matter of Formosa's wastewater discharge, it proved to be inadequate.
Wilson's next confrontation came when she saw a public notice that Formosa wanted to expand its marine terminal and tank storage facility at Point Comfort. The facility was essential for the plant to receive naphtha, the highly volatile liquid hydrocarbon that would be converted into PVC. The marine terminal would require an air permit from the Texas Air Control Board, and Wilson requested another hearing. By delaying the permit, she was delaying the construction. "They went nuts about that," she says.
During this hearing Blackburn managed to introduce Formosa's poor history of
compliance as a factor in whether the permit should be given. At its Delaware plant, the infractions were so blatant that the
state closed the plant down for 30 days until it got into compliance. Such tough action, unlikely by Texas regulatory agencies,
was needed to get Formosa's attention, Blackburn contended. Blackburn reviewed the causes of Formosa's $3.4 million EPA fine and its other problems complying with its permits.
His case was helped by growing public concern about safety. A Phillips plant had exploded in Houston, killing 33 people. The Union Carbide plant a few miles south of Seadrift had exploded in March 1991, blowing open doors 40 miles away. Shortly before the hearing, a valve burst in Formosa's older plant, spewing hydrochloric acid and gas and forcing the closing of the highway north of Point Comfort.
Blackburn had encouraged Wilson to gather the support of groups outside the county, including the Sierra Club, Texans United, Greenpeace and the Union of Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers. Such contacts would keep Wilson less isolated, he felt, and reduce the likelihood that some "accident" might happen to her.
Other people in the area began to get upset. Marian Traylor, a great-grandmother whose husband's family had ranched in the area for several generations, had been a supporter of Phil Gramm, who had grandstanded at the press conference in which Formosa made its expansion plans known. Then her nephew was gassed out of his ranch by Formosa's hydrochloric acid release, and she lived in daily fear that something worse would happen. All the aquatic life in Cox's Creek, which ran through her property, had been destroyed by Formosa releases. Now she was watching Greenpeace videos proposing the total ban of chlorine chemistry, and she was calling Sierra Club lawyers about suing Formosa for lost property values. She was also lending Diane Wilson a car so Wilson could drive to Austin and Corpus Christi and Dallas to continue her work.
In the town of Point Comfort, housewife Louann Morris was leading a fight to get Formosa to buy out the area's homeowners. She wanted to close the Point Comfort School because she didn't feel the children there had enough time to make it to safety if the plant exploded and gas drifted over the school grounds.
They were among Diane Wilson's allies. But compared to the power arrayed against them, they seemed puny.
Formosa got its air permit, and Blackburn, exasperated, wrote a seven-page open letter to Governor Ann Richards and anyone else who would listen about the problems of Formosa. He called for, among other things, criminal prosecution.
In the spring of 1992, Susan Wang, Y.C. Wang's daughter and a top official at Formosa, called Blackburn. Formosa was tired of the commotion. She wanted, she said, to make her peace with Blackburn and Wilson. Blackburn, worn out by months of fighting and seeing very little help from government agencies, saw an opportunity. He and Formosa's representative discussed a series of points that eventually produced a three-member commission to oversee the plant. One representative would be Blackburn or his delegate, another would be appointed by Formosa and a third would be agreed upon mutually. Any two of the commissioners could make decisions that would be contractually binding on Formosa.
The fundamental concerns were these: safeguarding Lavaca Bay, safeguarding the pristine Carancahua Bay behind the Point Comfort plant, rewarding employees with bonuses for environmental compliance and giving a citizen's commission oversight on safety issues within the plant. Other points could not be agreed upon. A few months into the negotiations, Formosa could not be persuaded to buy out the homeowners in Point Comfort who wanted out. Nor would the company cooperate with the union that was trying to organize its workers. Wilson went on another hunger strike. Blackburn continued the negotiations.
"I remember," Wilson says, "he had this settlement and he had negotiated it with [Formosa official] John Wu, and he seemed to have left me out. When I confronted him about this he said 'You're too emotional.' Actually, I am emotional, but that's beside the point. Anyway, I was having real misgivings. We got into a fight. He said, 'If you don't sign, it's over.' He was the only one I had. Talk about stress. Every environmental group pressured me not to sign."
Blackburn saw the agreement as a victory. The plant was 70 percent complete and it did not appear that any government agency was going to regulate Formosa effectively. But he now had an agreement that gave an independent commission the right to review Formosa's environmental performance and require compliance with standards tougher than federal law. In exchange, Blackburn would take no further legal action against Formosa's permits. Blackburn knew of nothing like this agreement in U.S. corporate history.
The victory, he thought, was this: They had gotten the government out of the process.
Not everyone saw it that way. Greenpeace opposed the agreement. The Union of Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers, which hadn't succeeded in organizing the plant's workers, was also telling Wilson not to sign.
Wilson and Blackburn had been through a lot. She had seen him as her rescuer. Blackburn drove down to Seadrift and they had a long talk on the dock about the philosophical implications of the agreement. They talked about ecofeminism , the belief that environmental problems will be solved in a spirit of partnership, not domination. They talked about sustainable development, in which development is not halted, but redesigned so that it will not damage the environment. At the end of their conversation, Wilson said she would meet Blackburn in Austin in October 1992 and sign the agreement at a press conference with Susan Wang.
The morning of the announcement, Blackburn waited for Wilson for a long time in the capitol rotunda. When she didn't show, he headed for the press conference. In the middle of the announcement, Greenpeace interrupted with a piece of guerrilla theater in which Blackburn was characterized by an actor as a money-grubbing lawyer with Formosa dollar bills pasted all over him. The union also issued a news release claiming he had sold out. It was the darkest moment in Blackburn's career as an environmental lawyer.
The night before she was to meet Blackburn in Austin, Wilson experienced her own dark night of the soul. She took the Seabee out into Lavaca Bay and stared into the black waters.
"I was ripped totally in two," she says. "I had reached the bottom. My phone was being disconnected. My husband and I were on the verge of a divorce. I sat right on the edge of the stern wishing someone would throw me over."
She stayed in the bay until 4 in the morning, knowing that she just couldn't go through with her promise to Blackburn. She couldn't sign the Formosa agreement. She was on her own, without her guardian ally.
The place from which Wilson plans her environmental strategy is a 100-year-old house that she and her husband, Leslie, moved to 20 acres of land near the fishing village of Seadrift. In a littered front office, Wilson carries on the business of the Calhoun County Resource Watch. In one corner sits a battered copier and in the other a fax machine with a phone that a retired government secretary gave her. She has a cheap portable typewriter on which she types her legal briefs and the extensive interviews with plant workers who frequently phone her with information about problems in the Formosa plant. Wilson is on the phone constantly. A dozen boxes of files are scattered about, through which she negotiates almost intuitively.
She has turned her lack of resources into an asset. Middle-class people, she has discovered, are often afraid to speak out, and the poor are so discouraged they are apathetic.
"Gandhi says it's a myth that you have to have money or people to do anything," she says. "You eventually need people. But most people, if they have no money, don't do anything."
Pinned to the unpainted plasterboard is a photocopy of her with former Texas commissioner of agriculture Jim Hightower, "the only politician who ever endorsed me." A small cloth banner testifies to her trip to Bhopal, India, where she was part of an international convention on the environment near the site of the world's worst industrial accident, a Union Carbide release that killed 3,000 people and injured thousands more.
A white banner bearing red Chinese characters adorns the front wall, a souvenir of her trip to Taiwan in 1991 to meet environmental protestors. Referring to Formosa's proposed expansion on Taiwan, the banner reads "Stop Plant No. 6 or Die."
In Taiwan, she said, she saw wastewater going directly into a river that had been turned so acidic that she could see heat rising from it. She saw a Formosa truck dumping waste directly into a river. She saw waste in the edges of the streets.
"That tour radicalized me," she says. Not that Wilson hadn't taken some risks before on behalf of her beliefs. After growing up on the bays and bayous of Seadrift, she spent a year in college in San Antonio and enlisted in the Army as a medic.
She was sent to Fort Sam Houston during the height of the Vietnam War. There she saw the demoralized wounded, evacuated from Vietnam. She worked in a hospital ward thick with marijuana smoke. To show their gratitude for the care she gave, the injured soldiers would try to give her drugs.
"They were completely destroyed spiritually," she said. "Eventually I went to the colonel and said, 'I'm not playing this game anymore.' "
She left the base without permission and went to Toronto for three months, came back and was dishonorably discharged. Her brother, a jet pilot during the war, urged her to seek clemency, but Wilson is proud of the discharge.
Clipped to the lampshade in her office is a quotation from environmental writer Edward Abbey that might serve as Wilson's operating philosophy: "At some point we must draw a line across the ground of our home and our being, drive a spear into the land, and say to the bulldozers, earthmovers and corporations, 'thus far and no further.' If we do not, we shall later feel, instead of pride, the regret of Thoreau, that good but overly-bookish man, who wrote, near the end of his life, 'If I repent of anything it is likely to be my good behavior.' "
Perhaps it is her Cherokee blood, which makes her hair blue-black, that makes her so stubborn about the ownership of resources. Some people have characterized her protests as those of a desperate commercial fisherman who wants her livelihood back. But her obstinacy runs deeper than that.
"There is no money I want, no job I want," she says. "All I see is that we are killing ourselves and our planet. I know what I want. It's that bay, that's what I want. They've got a lot of stuff," she says, meaning the industrialists and politicians and business leaders who want more petrochemical plants in the area, "but I promise you, they won't get the bay."
Wilson's favorite book is The Hero with a Thousand Faces, by Joseph H. Campbell, the Jungian scholar who found a common pattern of heroic action in all mythologies. The hero leaves the safety of his -- or in this case, her -- people, and descends into the labyrinth. The hero is confronted by demons and offered assistance by strangers. In this perilous journey, the hero reaches the center of the labyrinth and almost dies to bring back to her people a precious sign that will heal them and make them whole again.
Well, Wilson says, she may have had her dark night of the soul, but she didn't die. Last July, she helped expose a contractor's scandal at Formosa in which Formosa management gouged contractors by demanding lower costs than were originally bid and asking for kickbacks. She recently amended her brief to the administrative judge about Formosa's discharge with 26 documents that detail all of Formosa's discharges for the last several months. She also sent him 17 scientific papers, each acutely summarized and typed on her portable typewriter.
Wilson recalls her only meeting with the man who owns Formosa, the formidable Y.C. Wang. The worth of his companies is said to be $6 billion, and he tightly controls them by using family members as managers. The daily sessions in which he interrogates his managers are said to be grueling. At 78, he is a trim, athletic man who arises at 4:30 and works all day and evening.
Wilson remembers a small, stern man in a steel-gray suit who arrived in a caravan of black limousines, their headlights blazing in the daylight. His wife and daughter accompanied him, and she observed how very deferentially they treated him. For three hours Wilson talked to Wang through an interpreter. She suspects he understands far more English than he lets on. She also thinks they have a lot in common. They both grew up in working-class families. They are both dedicated and obsessive. They both know what they want. But perhaps Wang was not accustomed to dealing with a woman in such a defiant position.
"When Wang talked to me," she said, "he looked right at me, but when I talked back, he wouldn't look at me. But I can tell you this, I have seen the eye of the dragon and it is green."
"When people are afraid, you have to make extremely powerful statements," Wilson says. "I feel that to have integrity, I have to put things that I really value at risk. Which is why I decided to sink the boat. I make a living off of that. We have been in the business for four generations, and sinking a boat is paramount to burning down your farm."
On the windy midnight that the Seabee was being towed down the intracoastal canal toward Lavaca Bay, a Coast Guard patrol boat hailed Wilson and boarded her. They had heard a rumor that she was planning to scuttle her trawler. Two young crewmen inspected the engineless Seabee and found a wrench mounted on the propeller shaft. A turn of the wrench and the boat would fill up with water and sink. The Coast Guard informed her that the penalty for obstructing a waterway could be 18 years in jail and $500,000 in fines, far more for a single violation than anything Formosa had ever been threatened with.
After two hours of questioning, the Coast Guard ordered Wilson to dock at Port O'Connor. When another fisherman showed up to take the Seabee to Lavaca Bay, the Coast Guard informed him his boat would be confiscated if he helped Wilson out. The Seabee was stuck at the Port O'Connor dock.
Wilson spent a restless night on the floor of her cabin, using a life jacket as a pillow. All night the north winds rocked her little boat. By morning, gale force winds had whipped the bay into a froth. Only seven or eight boats showed up for the demonstration. But newspapers picked up the story. Wilson had made her point anyway.
As for Lavaca Bay, the prospects continue to be clouded. By declaring it a Superfund site, the EPA has a powerful financial hammer on Alcoa to clean up the mercury in the bay.
Without Blackburn's help, Wilson filed legal briefs on her own to stop Formosa from discharging its wastewater into the bay. There is a possibility that she could actually win the case and stop Formosa's discharge, and if she did that, she would shut Formosa down. But though Blackburn is no longer her legal counsel, the two have been talking and supporting each other in their different paths. On May 6 they met with President Bill Clinton's new head of Region 6 of the EPA, Jane Saginaw, a lawyer with a background in toxic torts. Wilson explained her concerns and expects to have another meeting at the end of the month with the new head of the EPA, Carole Browner.
Blackburn had news about Formosa's discharge for the EPA. His commission at Formosa was studying a way to pull the discharge out of the bay by recycling the water. Formosa had hired former University of Houston engineering professor Jack Matson to design a wastewater system that would recycle some of the cooling water and inject other parts of it into deep wells 5,000 feet below the earth's surface.
Perhaps partnership, rather than war, was working.
Given Formosa's efforts to get the discharge out of the bay, Wilson may even let go of her administrative appeal. The Coast Guard wants her to tow the Seabee out of its Port O'Connor dock. Probably she will not try to sink it again. Will she put the motor in and go shrimping once more in her beloved bay? There is nothing like being on the bay, being wet with salt water. She loves even the feel of the jellyslime all over her. But no, she says. These days, she feels sad about fishing. And she has given the motor away.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Houston Press' biggest stories.