BP tackling tar mats off coast – County officials say cleanup effort too little, too late (PHOTOS)


BP is using a large excavator to remove thousands of pounds of weathered oil each day from a huge tar mat in the surf off Perdido Key beach, directly behind Eden Condominium resort.

This is the first effort of its kind in Florida to remove tar mats in the Gulf of Mexico surf zone, where the majority of people swim.

Although it creates an eyesore for now, Patrick Schibline is excited to see the cleanup operation, which includes 20 workers and six pieces of large equipment stretching across 400 feet of beach.

“I’ve been trying to get them to clean up the beach for the last two months — since the tar mat was discovered in December,” said Schibline, 61, Eden’s homeowners association president.

But Escambia County officials say the operation is woefully inadequate, given BP’s anemic reaction to at least nine other tar mats pinpointed near Perdido Key.

Four tar mats lie between Fort Pickens and Navarre Beach, and many others are suspected to extend 100 miles out, county officials said.

Tired of waiting for BP to address the issue, County Administrator Charles Oliver fired off a letter to BP’s incident commander in New Orleans on Friday requesting that the oil giant address the tar mats.

The county is convinced the mats are the source of hundreds of pounds of tar balls that continue to wash up on area beaches daily. Even though they’re quickly scooped up by cleanup crews, the county does not want the public stepping in the mats in the water. And questions remain about the toxicity of the mats.

While the county waits on a response from BP, it is following the lead of Orange Beach, Ala., and seeking a proposal from a private company to search for and clean up tar mats found from the shoreline to depths of 30 feet in the Gulf.

“We want to see productivity from BP, or we will move ahead and we’ll send BP the bill,” said Keith Wilkins, the county’s environmental point official, speaking on behalf of Oliver.

“It seemed to us that BP wants to allow the tar mats to biodegrade or break up naturally in the surf and then pick them up on the beach that’s been cleaned,” he said.

See photos here of how far BP still has to go to “Make It Right”: http://www.pnj.com/article/20110308/NEWS01/103080317/1160/news0601/BP-tackling-tar-mats-off-coast?odyssey=nav|head

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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