Sunday, June 27, 2010

Pensacola's Petroleum Politics

1. When it oils, it pours.

As if the Gulf Coast isn't facing enough trouble, the National Hurricane Center says Tropical Storm Alex strengthened while over Belize last night. This morning, it "looks more like a hurricane than a than a low-end tropical storm."

The NHC adds, "There is at least a moderate likelihood that Alex could become a major hurricane" in the coming week.

Current computer model forecasts do not agree on the storm's ultimate destination now that it is emerging over Gulf waters again. Some have it veering west toward the Mexico-U.S. border, others have it slowing growing stronger for a few days before striking somewhere near the Louisiana-Texas border -- on a path that just about certainly would shut down everything except the oil gusher at the Deepwater Horizon oil spill site.

Above is the sunny side forecast. You don't want to see the other one.

2. Oil over troubled waters.

The PNJ's Travis Griggs articulates the question on everyone's mind:
Would a hurricane dilute the oil and speed its breakdown? Or would it pollute bays and the surrounding land and cause health problems for area residents?
It's worth while to read the whole article. What you'll find, as with so many other questions raised by BP's criminal negligence, is that no one knows for sure what the answers are, but it sure seems like none of them is good.

3. Destination near.

We're still on the road, but nearing our destination. Altogether, so far we've logged 1300 miles of endless Interstate highways. The relative we're helping is so anxious to reach his new home that we aren't allowed to stop for any sites of interest.

We only slow down, it seems, to refuel the vehicle. Consequently, the only photos we're able to take have to be snapped at 75 mph through the windshield.

4. Public Health Alerter Mystery.

The boring road trip has given us some time to contemplate this from yesterday's PNJ:
Dr. John Lanza, director of the Escambia County Health Department, said he lifted the health advisory on Pensacola Beach today, at the direction of Santa Rosa Island Authority W. A. “Buck” Lee.

“Today, when I got the call from Buck Lee, he and his staff evaluated beaches and gave me information, and I rescinded the health advisory,” Lanza said.

There was no inspection from Health Department employees. No water testing.
Wait just a minute, here. Who's on first? Is Dr. John Lanza really the director of the county health department? Or, is he just the office stenographer, paid to transcribe messages from high school grad Buck Lee?

Locals will recognize what's going, although potential visitors to Pensacola Beach may not. This has absolutely nothing to do with public health. It's a game of "Pass the Petroleum Political Problem."

Buck Lee's knowledge about human medicine and public health is so scant you could stuff it in an olive. He isn't even an "executive" director, as he likes to be called. He's just an ol' pol at the end of a long career whose hallmark was to avoid taking responsibility for anything bad that happens.

The last thing Buck Lee wants to do is get blamed by beach businesses for discouraging visitors to Pensacola Beach because the water, surf, and what may lie beneath the sand represent a health hazard to swimmers. Being the wily old Panhandle pol that he is, he knows if the oil really represents a health hazard, somebody somewhere else will eventually have to step in and do the responsible thing.

Lee might well have figured that 'somebody' would be Dr. John Lanza. But Lanza fooled him. He decided not to conduct any public health testing of the beach sand or water. After all, he had Buck Lee 's word for it, "the beach looks clean to me."

That's good enough for medical science, right?

Now, both Lee and Lanza are ducking responsibility. In effect, they're waiting for someone else to do the right thing.

What do you bet it will have to be the feds? And when they shut the beach down because of unhealthy conditions, who will be the first to scream about "federal interference?"

It's a predictable but dangerous strategy Lee and Lanza are playing. What you don't know about public heath could kill you. And these two are doing their best to make sure you don't know anything.
Looks like we'll be back home just about the time Hurricane Alex starts flexing his muscles.


Anonymous said...

Lanza is a state employee who has a job description and I seriously doubt that taking orders from Buck Lee falls within it's perimeters. This is a serious lapse in judgement on Lanza's part that should have serious consequences for him because he has jeopardized the health of beach goers, acted beyond his authority AND has neglected his duty to protect the public's health. How can the community possibly have any confidence in him now? As for Buck Lee I don't think there are many who would expect any better from him. How in the heck does a guy like that keep his job??

BeachLover said...

Friend of mine saw this on the 17th Ave graffiti trestle yesterday:

Today I saw families with small children playing in the surf near Avenida 18 right along with lots of roiling tarballs, and plenty still on the beach (along with reddish brown stained sand). Unbelievable.