Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Beach Business: Wednesday May 12 Oil Spill Update

"It's never a pretty sight to watch academic administrators foraging for grant money."

1. Biding Time on the Beach.

There's still no sign of oil on Pensacola Beach. So far as we can discover, there's only one unverified report of a "red shiny surface in sunlight in Santa Rosa Sound near shore."

This was posted anonymously on the "Reports" page of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, a web site that relies to some extent on "citizen journalists" -- always a tricky business when any dog has access to the internet.

Purportedly, the sheen is "more visible with polarized lenses in sunlight" and the "water generally appears darker, sediment present." Another anonymous report, also unverified, claims at Navarre Beach --
Air causing burning in lungs near sound, water now black in areas, very dark with red color near shore, looks like soot or coal was dumped. Worse by the day. Was clear only three days ago. The "slick" on the Gulf is the least of our problems. The sediment is already in waterways.
Despite southeast winds, NOAA maps suggest the oil slick has been growing and creeping closer to Pensacola Beach. An early morning Public Radio report reads one version of the NOAA map (above, top) as showing the oil slick is now about 90 miles southwest of Pensacola.

2. Hungry Academicians.

The big news in today's Pensacola News Journal is yesterday's visit to the University of West Florida campus by Frank Brogan, chancellor of the State University System of Florida, and FSU's Ross Ellington, vice president for Research. They were here "to speak with faculty members and discuss difficulties the university has faced while preparing for the oil spill."
During their day-long visit, Brogan and Ellington were briefed by university faculty members and researchers, including Richard Snyder, director of the UWF Center for Environmental Diagnostics and Bioremediation.
"BP Holding Back," reads the front page headline. (Click left) But what we're told is that UWF's researcher "voiced frustration about the difficulties... trying to get information from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and other agencies monitoring the effects of the spill."
"They won't even tell us where they're sampling, none the less what they're sampling or testing for," Snyder said.
None the less? Ah, well. Maybe it's just a failure of communication.

Much less -- as Mr. Snyder might put it -- UWF appears to have solved the problem on its own, just as university scientists did in the good old days when the Florida state legislature actually funded higher education. Dr. Judy Bense is president of the UWF, to be sure, but for her research still comes first. Coastal studies students already have been dispatched to Pensacola Beach and "independently set up four water and sand sampling sites."
"We reached the point where we decided we had to do something," Snyder said. University researchers will maintain the sites for at least 10 weeks, or until they run out of money, Snyder said.
In case anyone's not clear on why, exactly, Tallahassee academic brass would come to Pensacola to complain about how difficult the Florida Department of Environmental Protection in Tallahassee is being, FSU's Ellington hastens to add:
"We're not here to set policy. We're not here to say, 'This is what you should do.' We're here to be a resource for the local, federal and state agencies."
That was the good cop talking. Brogan, playing bad cop, vows to use the state university system's "collective political and scientific clout" so all state universities will "be allowed to contribute to the response process."

It's never a pretty sight to watch academic administrators foraging for grant money. Even the metaphors they use are unintentionally telling. Chancellor Brogan speaks of being "denied a seat at the table." Mr. Snyder weirdly refers to "a bowl of scientists." These guys are hungry!

A university scientist we were speaking to just yesterday -- he's not based in Florida -- told us to watch out for marauding academicians. "They're all starving for grant money. They're stampeding to the coast in herds," he warned. "Be sure you don't get run over."

3. Mississippi Smelling.

The Biloxi Sun-Herald reports the "pervasive petroleum smells" of crude oil reached coastal Mississippi yesterday. Odors were detected in Bay St. Louis, Waveland and Gulfport:
What people likely are smelling is the volatile organic compounds that have evaporated into the air, one group of airborne elements the EPA is monitoring. These include benzene, toluene and ethylbenzene.
The smell is being described as " a burned-plastic odor, odd waxy smell and the smell of diesel exhaust... similar to smelling gasoline fumes at the gas pump." EPA air quality tests registered 3 parts per million, or 2 parts per million below the level that would cause the agency "concern" over health effects.

4. Blaming the Messenger.

A photo the Sun Herald is running in print and on-line shows a lone tourist sitting on the beach at Biloxi. From the caption we learn that the South Mississippi tourism industry is "concerned about the negative perceptions of the area created by the media coverage of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill."

That's so like Mississippians. Fifty years ago they blamed the media for making black people uppity enough to think they had the right to vote and send their children to public schools. Now, they seem to think that business would be just ducky if only the media would let Mississippi merchants lure uninformed tourists to the area. The only remaining issue is how to stop them, once they arrive, from breathing the air.

5. Tarballs on Orange Beach.

Tarballs began washing ashore yesterday at Gulf Shores, Alabama, just west of the Florida state line. The Mobile Register reports:
Crews in environmental protection suits were on the beaches of Baldwin County, gathering tar balls that started washing up earlier in the day... .
* * *
"The smallest was about the size of a hamburger patty, and the largest was about the size of a notebook," [Gulf Shores Mayor Robert Craft said. "They were big enough that people can avoid them. Right now, we don't know if they're hazardous, but we're telling people to avoid them and let the contractors clean them up."
If Gulf Shores is seeing evidence of the oil spill, Perdido Key won't have long to wait.

6. More Tourism Woes.

The Mobile Register also reports that Alabama's state tourism board is launching a $1.5 million advertising campaign this weekend with "print and television ads." According to the director of the state tourism department --
The first print advertisement will appear on the front of the Atlanta Constitution on Thursday, while three television commercials are being prepared for regional markets to inform potential visitors that area beaches are still open... .
She Who Must Be Obeyed has an idea for Alabama. Contemplating the likely toxic poisoning of a large percentage of the fish stock in the Gulf of Mexico, she was wondering the other day if the Flor-Ala Bar that straddles the state line will have to cancel its annual 'Mullet Toss' contest next year. "Instead, they could have a "Dead Fish Bones Throw," she said.

Hey! Maybe there's a grant opportunity in there, somewhere.


Anonymous said...

the Biloxi waterfront has emitted "pervasive petroleum smells" for decades. :(

Anonymous said...


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