Oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill is nearing Pensacola Beach in Florida's Panhandle, and government officials are clamoring for beach cleaning equipment.
The Escambia County, Fla., Department of Environmental Protection has reported a plume of oil 12 miles off the Perdido Pass, and signs have been posted warning beachgoers not to swim or fish off a six-mile stretch of oil-fouled beaches near the Alabama and Florida state line. The Escambia County Health Department posted the signs after heavy tar balls and a tarry-mousse substance were reported along the beach. Pensacola Beach is in Escambia County and is home to about 2,000 residents.
Skimming operations are being conducted after tar balls and sheen were spotted flowing through Pensacola Pass and into Pensacola Bay. The pass remains open to traffic, and skimmers have collected most of the oil reported in Pensacola Pass. Booms also have been set in Pensacola Pass.
Pensacola Beach officials have requested about $150,000 from BP to buy sifting machines and a tractor to help remove oil from the beach's white sands. The officials say, according to news reports, that their request has remained unanswered for more than three weeks. BP has promised it will pay any expenses, but Panhandle officials say the bureaucracy has been slow.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) should be managing the cleanup operation, not BP, said W.A. "Buck" Lee, executive director of the Santa Rosa Island Authority (SRIA). "We need the sifters, and we haven't gotten them approved yet," Lee said. "It's been three weeks, and the oil is coming. In my opinion, this entire thing should have been a FEMA project all along. If a hurricane blows the roof off your jail, you shouldn't have to wait and send a letter to BP to replace the roof on your jail."
The sifters are pulled behind tractors, clearing oil from the sand as they go, but at $87,000 apiece, Lee says BP seems more concerned with saving money than saving local beaches. "If they are worried about the cost or us keeping them, I would sign a form right now saying once the oil leaves us, you can come get your tractors and sand-sifters and take them back to England with you."
Lee also wants to see more skimmers working the waters off Pensacola Beach. He said the bureaucratic process set up at the spill's Mobile, Ala.-based Unified Command Center also has made it difficult to get feedback about his pending request for equipment.
In an e-mail to Govpro.com, Lee added: "If the Command in Mobile doesn't approve our request, we cannot be reimbursed. BP holds the purse strings, and the feds want to make sure you don't damage the environment. What could be worse than oil?"
SRIA is the governing body that oversees the direction of Pensacola Beach on Santa Rosa Island. SRIA does not receive tax support from the taxpayers of the county, but instead is fully funded from rental fees collected from beach business and residences.
If interested in volunteering to help in the spill cleanup, go to the Deepwater Horizon Unified Command Web site.
To submit your organization's vessel for skimming operations, or to submit alternative response technology, services or products, call 281-366-5511. The Deepwater Horizon Joint Information Center can be reached at 985-902-5231.
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