Thursday, July 01, 2010

Surreal Thursday July 1 BP Oil Spill Update

1. Beach Report.

Escambia DisasterResponse acknowledged in this morning's Beach Report # 28 (not yet online as this is written) that "Pensacola Beach is seeing coverage of up to 50 percent in some areas in tar balls and tar patties today." Also:
  • Cleanup crews were on the beach last night and crews working today as weather permits.
  • Heavy equipment is being utilized on Pensacola Beach. Work will continue as weather permits.
Natch', county and beach officials claim the beach "remains open" for swimming except for the area west of the fishing pier.

The open area is exactly the one we visited yesterday, a popular 6-mile stretch of beach from the County East Beach to popular Casino Beach in the commercial core. All of it, although officially "open," has been inundated by BP's tarballs and disgusting orange oil mousse for days on end.

2. Surreal Surf Presser.

Island Authority administrator Buck Lee yesterday held a joint press conference at the fishing pier. He was joined by county neighborhood services chief Keith Wilkins. Conspicuously missing in action was county public health director John J. Lanza.

The presser must have been, by all accounts, a surreal experience. The Pensacola News Journal carried two versions about it. One makes the two county officials sound like idiots. The other paints them as shameless shirkers, blaming everyone else for not stopping them from endangering the public.

The first PNJ dispatch was filed by Mike Greear ["Is It Safe to Swim in Gulf?"]. Greear is a new guy on the block, formerly opinions editor for the University of West Florida's student newspaper.

His on-line report didn't make it into today's print edition. But Travis Griggs sewed a few threads of it together with other hair-raising facts of his own to make it today's above-the-fold top story in the dead-tree News Journal. ["Oil Spill: Water Safe? You'll have to Wing It"]

Griggs' report of the 'news' from the two county officials can be quickly summarized:
  • Yes, County and SRIA officials "have the authority to close the beach waters to swimming."
  • But no, they haven't closed the beach except for one brief two-day period last week "after the heaviest waves of oil yet washed ashore on Pensacola Beach."
  • Yes, county officials will close swimming "when there is no way beachgoers can reasonably avoid the oil washing ashore."
  • But no, they didn't close it yesterday even though there were tarballs and orange mousse in the surf all the way along the 7 1/2-mile stretch of beach we trekked both east of the fishing pier and west to Ft. Pickens Gate.
  • Yes, county official Williams would no longer let his own children swim in the Gulf.
  • But no, he won't close any more beach to swimming until the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issues new guidelines specifically "determining the maximum safe levels of oil in swimming water."
Reporter Griggs also contacted Molly Payne-Hardin, a "spokeswoman for the Escambia County Department of Health." She told him the county health department "does not have the authority to close Gulf waters to swimming. " It can only issue "public advisories... based on the amount of visible oil present." (And, as we know, Dr. Lanza relies on Buck Lee's eyesight for what oil is visible.)

Let's hope an infectious viral epidemic never strikes Pensacola Beach. The county public health office might be limited to posting personal appeals on Craig's List to be cautious about spreading disease.

Buck Lee, no doubt realizing someone should look like they're in charge, reassured the press yesterday that he monitors beach conditions daily. "I went swimming Saturday afternoon. It was fine," he said. Let's hope he slept in a Holiday Inn, too.

On Pensacola Beach it comes down to this: the health of tourists and beach visitors now depends on a broken-down county pol's impressionistic view of the state of the water whenever he happens to take a dip in it.

Lee also said, according to cub reporter Greear, that "health advisories refer only to water." Only water!? Rather than boasting about that, Buck Lee ought to be apologizing to the sand. Rick Outzen reports "at least one sand dune has been leveled to provide access to the beach" for heavy bulldozers.

After blowing all this sand in the eyes of reporters Lee does admit, "Even if you can't see tar balls or mousse, there may be oil residue in the water."

3. False Message of an 'Open Beach.'

What is Buck Lee doing to warn beach-goers of tar, mousse, or "oil residue?" We happened into three members of a large church group from Texas yesterday. They told us they checked "on the internet" and the 'city' said the beach was open. From that, like most out-of-towners we suppose, they assumed the water was 'clean enough' for swimming.

Essentially, Lee and Wilkins are preying on the uninformed and naive, hoping the 'open beach' message will convince them it's safe to come to Pensacola Beach to spend their money. But it is not safe. Not unless, like the Texas group, you want to spend your time indoors, staring at a beach you cannot reach without wading through tarballs.

4. What Locals Know.

All of this is known to most locals, of course. At Casino Beach yesterday we met a retired haz-mat worker now living in Pensacola. He's got it figured out:

5. Happy Birthday, No. 412.

Progressive Pensacola the other day passed along "belated birthday wishes" to the congressman ranked No. 412 out of 435 in the House of Representatives. Hey! That's a generous ranking for "Mr. Oil Spill."

6. Grasping at Straws.

A friend on the beach calls to our attention a new and even more desperate straw for everyone to grasp: Taiwan's giant oil skimmer, now said to be on its way to the Gulf of Mexico. It's called the "A Whale."

We're partial to a more nature-friendly solution -- another whale, actually. This one is the giant whale just discovered to have inhabited the oceans some 12 or 13 million years ago.

Leviathan melvillei was up to fifty long and its mouth "was about 9 feet long and up to 7 feet wide."
The upper and lower teeth interlocked when the mouth closed — good for securing prey and ripping through flesh... . Leviathan probably ate anything it wanted to."
First, we'd have it eat all the oil sloshing around in the Gulf, then what's left of the Deepwater Horizon rig, and finally BP itself.

Now and then it's nice to dream.

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