BATON ROUGE — New oil is still washing up on local beaches, including Elmer’s Island, 10 months after BP’s Deepwater Horizon explosion, state officials said.
It’s a contentious time for crude sightings, especially as BP and the federal government begin to inch out of the Gulf Coast.
Officials with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries say they’ve been told that the clean-up partners are planning to “pack up shop” at the end of this month.
Secretary Robert Barham called the departure “unacceptable,” especially since new oil is being discovered in places like Bay Jimmy, Red Fish Bay and Pass-a-Loutre.
Oiled birds are still being recovered in these areas and others. A dolphin was also rescued from the area recently and later released off the Florida coast, Barham said.
The most “distressing” report, though, comes out of Elmer’s Island, near Grand Isle. Barham said there’s “new oil” showing up on its beaches, including tar balls and “a submerged mat” of crude.
Elmer’s Island, once a tourist hotspot, remains closed to fishing and recreation.
Over the past few years, the state has invested taxpayer dollars into rehabbing the area and creating public road access. Prior to these efforts, Elmer’s Island had been closed to the public for more than a decade.
In 2008, Gov. Bobby Jindal opened 250 acres of Elmer’s Island for public use after extensive title research determined that a portion of the Grand Isle barrier island belongs to Louisiana.
Barham said he has received “mixed signals” from BP and the federal government on whether either will continue to clean new instances of oil after the close of this month.
Federal law, though, gives the state final say over when an area is determined “cleaned,” Barham said.
“In that regard, I have some security,” Barham said. “But BP has sent some subtle messages that it wants to take the position that nature should takes its course at this point and that they have basically cleaned everything up. They think they’re on the backside of this. But we’re going to hold them accountable.”
Mike Utsler, COO of BP’s Gulf Coast Restoration Organization, said the seasonal low tide of winter was expected to reveal tar mats near shore and tar balls are still washing up in “limited areas” across the coast.
Utsler, who has hosted Facebook question sessions and is serving as the public face for BP’s clean up, contends BP’s efforts won’t stop when a beach is cleaned.
“BP is going to be in the communities of the Gulf Coast for the long-term, and part of our continuing job will be to closely monitor the shoreline for any signs of tarred material,” he said. “We have specially trained reconnaissance teams that patrol the shoreline looking for any signs of tar balls, and if we find any, we will still have locally based response teams and equipment ready to rapidly clean the area.”
Initially, he said BP’s goal was to have all of the Gulf Coast’s “amenity beaches” cleaned up in time for spring break.
Jeremy Alford can be reached at email@example.com.