ORANGE BEACH, Alabama – Part of a tar mat taken out of the surf of West Beach lies on the front table of the council chambers in Orange Beach. It is what so many are concerned with along the gulf coast.
Federal incident commander and Coast Guard Captain James Hanzalik has seen it before. “I’ve been doing oil spills for 25 years. It’s not surprising that you may see something like this especially the large volume of oil that was spilled. It’s historic.”
It’s one of the issues that state and local leaders from Alabama and Florida hoped would be addressed during a working session with Coast Guard and BP officials according to Orange Beach Mayor Tony Kennon. “Tar mats, they looked at me like a deer in the headlights. They did not acknowledge there was any tar mats out there. They told me to call them if I found one.”
Oil in the back bays and future clean up plans were also on the agenda but still no specifics. “We’ll just take a look at it and see if we can help them out,” says Hanzalik.
Captain Hanzalik took over command of the oil spill response last Friday. “So again, we’re starting all over with a new relationship and his ability to answer questions, in my opinion, was minimal as well.”
This initial meeting did not instill confidence says state representative Steve McMillan. “It’s hard to be optimistic when you’ve been done this way for so long.”
The frustration was echoed by those who attended the two hour session. “Whether it is 200 yards out or 20 miles, who cares? They don’t have a plan to get it clean up,” says Escambia County Florida Commissioner Gene Valentino.
“I was hoping to get the answers the tourists are asking today and unfortunately they couldn’t provide us those answers,” says Herb Malone who heads Gulf Shores and Orange Beach Tourism office.
“We have issues all the way around so I feel like we are spitting in the wind is what it amounts too,” says Kennon.
One other concern voiced more than a few is the feeling that bp will pull out next month, Never to return. Captain Hanzilak says those reports are inaccurate. They will be here till the job is done.