Thursday, June 17, 2010

Oily Night Work: Thursday June 17 BP Oil Spill Update

1. Oil Forecast.

The latest short-term oil-cast for Pensacola Beach is favorable. According to an 11 am report (click above graphic) from Escambia Disaster Response, "Winds from the north northwest will push oil away from our shores." Also --
The University of West Florida conducted water quality tests on Monday. The results came back Wednesday afternoon. There were no dissolved hydrocarbons present in any the water samples.
2. Stained Carapace.

A dead loggerhead sea turtle washed up on shore at Pensacola Beach this week. Donna Patrice took the grim pictures and shared them with Barrier Island Girl. B.I.G. reports, "Most importantly, Donna had the presence of mind to take close-up photos of the carapace which was stained with oil."

The turtle carcass will undergo necropsy to determine the official cause of death.

3. Ft. Walton Beach.

Part of the oil slick hanging around south of Pensacola Beach made landfall yesterday to the east. In Ft. Walton Beach, "Tar balls are heavily concentrated on the stretch of Okaloosa Island near the pier, both on the beach and in the waters just off shore," the Northwest Daily News reports this morning.
The beaches were largely empty, though a few people still walked along the sand. One, a visitor from Ohio, had been out walking the night before and realized too late that she had been stepping on tar balls.
4. Destin.

In Destin, oil has been spotted at the entrance to the pass and the city council there is meeting this morning to decide on next steps. The Destin Log also received multiple photos of tarballs on Okaloosa Island's beaches, from a former intern. You can see them here.

5. Night Work.

Today's top, across-the-page, big black headline in the PNJ reads, "Cleanup Moves to Night." The lede explains, "Beach cleanup crews were expected to begin working nights rather than days on Wednesday... ."

In about 90 paragraphs containing nearly 700 words, Gannett's "capital bureau" reporter out of Tallahassee, Paul Flemming, transcribes four reasons for the county's decision to require clean-up workers to start work after dark.

Most of them seem to come from indicted county commissioner Gene Valentino, who's had his own troubles saying what he really means:
  • "It should be a break for sick, overheated workers"
  • "...also help the effectiveness of the effort."
  • "...could result in a better job"
  • "...because the sun beating down on tar balls turns them into goo, and picking up tar that's closer to solid is much easier."
See? It's all for the workers' protection, don'cha' know.

Somehow the official sources Fleming was transcribing, like the good stenographer he is, missed the one reason for making workers labor at night. That was fingered by a local beach-goer in a bathing suit (and misidentified as a "commissioner") who was interviewed by WEAR-TV:
"It would not scare tourists as much. People see crews and they want to get out of here."
You might be wondering how cleanup workers will be able to avoid stumbling around in the dark in soft sand looking for black tarballs and slippery, dangerous dark orange tar mats. To answer that, Fleming dutifully records --
John Dosh, emergency director for Escambia County, said he assumed the beach would be lighted much as roadways are lighted at night for repairs.
By golly, there's another advantage! With all the nighttime construction lights shining brightly on the beach, the sea turtles won't have any trouble finding a place to nest! 'See?' Valentino no doubt would have told Fleming if just one more fatuous cliche was needed. 'It's a win-win.'

6. Day Rooms.

Local reporter Carlton Proctor weighs in with another front page headline: "With Area Tourism Dollars Down, Officials Push BP to Fill the Gap." The shortened on-line headline version says it all: "BP Pushed to Fill Tourism Revenue Gap:"
To make up for droves of tourists canceling beach reservations, Pensacola area politicians and tourism officials are leaning on BP to send its workers and subcontractors to the hotels and condominiums most impacted by the spill.
Offering to rent empty resort rooms to BP clean up crews is a good idea. But as Highpointe Hotel Corp.'s Dave Cleveland, a sensible man, says, "It's a 'pay us now or pay us later' thing."

If we dared to put two and two together, we might come up with the notion that what the county really is aiming for is to force BP clean-up crews to work all night, then bed down in the daytime in beach hotels -- so long as they leave for work, again, before dinner time. If the rooms can be re-rented again, well, who's to know?

Who, that is, other than some crabby tourist like Amanda Fuoco, who writes a letter in the agony column today that she "called and tried to cancel" a room reservation when she heard about the oil. Her two year old son has allergies and she didn't want to subject him to health risks.

This is exactly the kind of story that will give beach hotels a bad rep. Better that they honor a request to cancel and add it to the claims against BP than begin piling up resentful tourists who will never come back.

7. Trying to Kill the Goose -- Again.

Look, we're no friend of BP Corp. There is no doubt it has unleashed a catastrophe of unprecedented, even historic, dimensions that will adversely affect the Gulf of Mexico for decades to come -- if, indeed, it hasn't already poisoned it for centuries to come.

We also take second place to no one when it comes to sympathy for businesses and employees who depend for their survival on the tourism trade. For many of them sales are down forty percent or more. For all of them, revenues soon will be plummeting even more. Frankly, it will be a miracle if half the businesses we see today on Pensacola Beach are here twelve months from now.

BP should be liable for every penny local businesses lose because of its criminally reckless behavior -- and more. Although Florida state law doesn't allow for emotional distress damages when caused by business losses, we believe some way needs to be found to change that doctrine, too, or to get around it with alternate legal theories. Commercial, property, and personal injury loss claims against BP are legitimate and they should be paid promptly and in full.

As local residents know all too well, however, Escambia County commissioners have a deeply ingrained propensity to kill the golden goose. It is a recurrent urge that seems driven by greed and a persistent penchant our tin-pot county leaders have for abusing their political power.

We could recite innumerable examples, both past and present. For example --
  • While desperately trying for decades to encourage people to settle on the raw, uninhabited Pensacola Beach county commissioners advertised across the nation their promise never to tax beach homes and businesses who leased beach lots with 99-year contracts -- only to boldly break the promise once the island was populated. Read Bill Post's book for the ugly details.
  • Local county government habitually issues building permits for more and more high rise hotel and condo construction on the beach, allowing developers to shut off water and beach views and to level nature's sand dunes; after which, ironically, the new buildings are named after the very thing the county authorized builders to destroy.
  • To attract beach businesses to the island, commissioners promised pioneer commercial retailers a sliding-scale lease fee based on gross receipts, but later broke that promise by imposing a variety of additional fees, assessments, and taxes which, of course, they continue to hike year after year. Most are passed along on the bills of customers, the rest are absorbed by merchants with thinner and thinner margins.
There is every reason in law and justice for Escambia County's businesses and residents to be made "whole" by BP for every penny it has and will cost them. But trying to squeeze out a extra few bucks by trying to hide from sight beach clean-up workers or forcing them into hazardous night work is, in its way, as heedless of human safety as BP was when it drilled on the cheap and disregarded warnings the well was unsafe.

Now is not the time for Escambia County officials to imitate our corporate nemesis by increasing the safety risk of clean-up for those least able to afford it, the minimum wage workers contracted by BP. Nor is it right for the county or businesses to unreasonably inflate claims for reimbursement beyond the substantial levels they inevitably will reach.

Reach for justice, not for the neck of the golden goose.

8. Beach Meetings Saturday.

Which brings us to the announcement many Pensacola Beach residents and businesses are receiving in the mail this week. Robert Rinke is sending out invitations to--
all island leaseholders and businesses to attend a public meeting concerning the B.P. Oil Spill on [Saturday] June 19th at 9:00 a.m. at Hemingway's Island Grill on Pensacola Beach.
* * *
The island leaseholders cannot withstand any additional financial setbacks. As a community, we need to openly discuss all ideas and proposals to meet these challenges and to hold B.P. financially accountable.
* * *
We will also discuss proper accounting for economic losses and legal remedies available for income producing properties and residential leaseholders.
You can read the entire letter below. Rinke predicts the meeting "will last approximately one hour." We predict that's wildly optimistic.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

I'm loving this new Gulf Oil Response Info website, now people can see what's happening rather than listen to the tee vee lie to them ;)
http://www.geoplatform.gov/gulfresponse/

And guess who started the rumor that Obama had turned down foreign aid??
http://www.politifact.com/florida/statements/2010/jun/16/george-lemieux/white-house-refused-international-oil-spill-aid-fl/

BeachLover said...

Re who decided clean-up should occur at night: Don't know if it's gospel truth but I heard Escambia EOC spokesperson Sonya Daniel on WCOA radio say that the order came down from Unified Command, with virtually no notice.