So the Associated Press earlier this week reported that VT Halter Marine agreed to pay a $144,545 civil fine for environmental violations connected to sandblasting particles and paint being released into the air. The AP report said that Pascagoula, Miss.-based VT Halter has now agreed to use a sweeper, water truck and vacuum truck to reduce dust and will fully contain any sandblasting and painting until a building is completed to house those operations. Halter said it would finish the building by June 30. 

Several ideas come to mind about this story.

First of all, it’s really not much of a story. I mean, a fine of $144,000 to a company like Halter, the shipbuilding subsidiary of VT Systems, is similar to my paying a parking ticket — more of a nuisance than anything else.

Secondly, the fact that this story appears in papers as far away as San Francisco tells me that almost any story about heavy industry and its breaking of federal, state or local environmental rules makes news. Note to all shipyards: look out.

Third, how could Halter put itself in this situation? There are people out there who are constantly looking for these kinds of violations. Right or wrong, fair or unfair, you just don’t put yourself in this situation. It hurts the Halter name and it hurts the industry’s image. It’s like celebrities who have nude photos of themselves on their phones. Why would they do that?

Fourth, why doesn't Halter have a building where its employees do sandblasting and painting? Many smaller yards have them. I don’t get that one.

Fifth, the AP interviewed a woman from a subdivision near the shipyard who said that her car is always full of dust and other airborne particles from surrounding heavy industry companies. In addition to Halter, there is a Chevron refinery and other similar businesses. Until recently, there was also a phosphates plant in the area. “It must be the most heavily industrialized section in the entire state,” a spokesperson for the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality told me over the phone. (Halter has to pay its fine to the MDEQ). Good point. I’ll bet heavy industry was in that area before “subdivision” became a part of the American lexicon. Why would developers want to put subdivisions near there? Why would zoning commissions allow it? It reminds me of a friend of mine who lived in Florida back in the 1980s. After living in the Sunshine State for about six months, I asked him how he liked it. “It’s fine if you don’t mind the occasional alligator in your driveway,” he said. Well, they were there first.

Ken Hocke has been the senior editor of WorkBoat since 1999. He was the associate editor of WorkBoat from 1997 to 1999. Prior to that, he was the editor of the Daily Shipping Guide, a transportation daily in New Orleans. He has written for other publications including The Times-Picayune. He graduated from Louisiana State University with an arts and sciences degree, with a concentration in English, in 1978.