Oil spill impact begins to affect Pike County

Published 8:49 pm Friday, June 4, 2010

The layer of oil spreading across the Gulf of Mexico has reached the coastline of Alabama.

Reports were initially made of gooey globs of sludge and tar balls washing ashore on Dauphin Island just outside of Mobile Bay.

Friday, the Alabama Department of Public Health released a statement expanding advisories of oil presence to areas as far east as Gulf Shores.

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The ADPH has advised against swimming in Alabama gulf waters, and there has been widespread closure of state and federal fishing waters just in time for recreational red snapper season.

Fishing is now prohibited in about one-third of the Gulf of Mexico crippling charter boat captains and anglers.

The BP Oil Spill, also known as the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, is now considered to be the worst such disaster in United States History. The impact, which promises to be a lasting one, is already severe.

“I’m just really disappointed all this has happened,” said Troy City Councilman Jason Reeves.

Reeves said the obvious and immediate consequences could unfortunately only be the beginning.

He said he feared the catastrophe could deal a significant blow not only to coastal areas, but also to Pike County and the entire southeast.

“One of the draws of this area is that you’re only a couple hours away from some of the worlds prettiest beaches,” Reeves said.

But, as the Emerald Coast turns black, so does the future of its tourism industry and the delicate ecosystem that keeps beach-seekers coming back year after year.

“That 231 traffic is a big part of our economy,” Reeves said.

And while pelicans and starlings are stuck with the mess, Reeves figures snowbirds will avoid it.

Malissa Valdes, Public Information Officer for the Alabama Emergency Management Agency said that steps are being taken to try and prevent contamination of the beaches.

“We’re having quite an amount of proposed boom,” she said.

21,900 feet of boom were proposed for deployment on Friday alone.

The booms are long buoyant barriers with a skirt that hang underwater.

They serve to corral the spreading oil slick, and protect target areas while making it easier for boats to perform skimming operations. Each day factors such as existing boom and weather conditions are evaluated before the next proposal of boom deployment is made.

The removal of the oil itself is done by skimmers, boats geared with equipment that sucks oil off the surface of the water.

“We’re really trying to get out there and skim as much as possible,” Valdes said.

And the countless fishermen out of work are ideal candidates to do the skimming.

Valdes said as part of the Vessels of Opportunity program, several boat owners have come forward to help clean the spreading slick.

After qualifying through a credentialing center and taking a four-hour training course, many Alabamians will go from catching gulf-fish to gulf-crude. In addition to a salary, those individuals could be working for their livelihoods.

The Press-Register in Mobile reported Friday that nearly 1,500 of those boats had been called up by an incident command center in Mobile.

While the effort continues locally to contain the slick, one BP official said he felt good about work being done at the epicenter of the crisis.

BP Chief Operations Officer, Doug Settles told CNN Friday that a third attempt to cap the leaking well had been successful, and he was confident positive results were not far off.

“I think it should work,” Settles said.

“This design, it won’t get every bit of it (the leaking oil), but if we can get it optimized, it should get the vast majority of it so we have very little oil leaking into the sea.”

Settles said the plan was contingent on the successful sealing of four vents on the cap. Many people like Councilman Reeves remain skeptical however.

“Everything they’ve said so far has been wrong,” he said.

Reeves said if efforts continue to be fruitless and the problem goes unchecked much longer, he feared the southeast could be faced with a disaster of historical proportions.