Looking for oil? Try Gulf Shores’ West Beach, where tarballs have sat since June


GULF SHORES, Alabama — As BP PLC touts its efforts to begin retrieving oil that’s been buried beneath the surface of Baldwin County’s beaches, one can visit a stretch of shoreline between this city’s main public beach and Little Lagoon Pass to find that the oil giant has plenty of oil sitting in plain view that needs to be collected.

Viewed from the 1200 block of West Beach Boulevard a swath of beach immediately south of the dune line that ranges from 10 to 15 yards wide is coated with tarballs as far as the eye can see in both directions. In places the sticky, staining bits are as thick as gravel on a driveway.

The sand to the south, however, has been tilled frequently and is nearly void of the tarry bits.

Tyler Goodwyn, who owns an undeveloped lot in the area, said his property has been soiled for more than two months. Early on, he said, there were also larger globs of gooey oil that have subsequently melted into the beach or been covered by wind-blown sand.

On June 23, Goodwyn said, he approached the supervisor of a nearby cleanup crew and tried to show the man his property, but the supervisor refused, telling Goodwyn he’d have to call BP’s spill hotline.

“It was insulting to me that the BP supervisor wouldn’t walk 300 feet with me to see it,” said Goodwyn, who wound up ringing the hotline twice.

Those calls prompted visits from both Environmental Protection Agency officials, on July 16, and the U.S. Coast Guard on July 26, Goodwyn said. In both instances the government representatives assured Goodwyn that the matter would be referred to BP’s cleanup contractor.

Though it sits in plain view and is miles long, the tarball-speckled stretch has somehow managed to escape widespread notice.

A spokeswoman with Meyer Real Estate, which manages numerous vacation homes along the polluted stretch of beach said the company has had no complaints from renters. Indeed, beachgoers today paid the tarballs no mind as they walked through them to the tilled sand nearer to the surf.

Gulf Shores officials said they too were unaware of the extent of the contamination. Public Works Director Mark Acreman said a city employee planned to visit West Beach with an Alabama Department of Environmental Management official tonight and would push BP to address the matter.

BP spokesman Ray Melick said this afternoon that federal rules prevent crews from operating beach-cleaning machines within a certain distance of dune systems.

“It’s sensitive and it’s got to be done by hand,” Melick said. “And it’s got to be done under the supervision of a (federal wildlife official).”

Still Melick couldn’t explain why the area has sat untended for more than two months. BP officials planned to visit the area tonight to assess the extent of the contamination and plan its cleanup, Melick said.

Gulf Shores’ Acreman said that BP is restricted from using heavy equipment within 30 feet of ecologically sensitive areas, but said the company’s reason for letting the stretch sit fouled for months “sounds like a cop out.”

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

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