Mayor Sam Seevers knows that BP should not be using dispersants in state waters, but after multiple reports from area residents about suspicious activity, she plans to get to the bottom of it.
“We had asked the Coast Guard and BP to find out what they can, and to let us know what was going on,” Seevers said recently.
She told The Log she had heard people talking about a “mystery dispersant” over the past few days, but it wasn’t until last week’s Vessel of Opportunity meeting at City Hall that Seevers had heard the topic echoed over and over.
Okaloosa Island resident Joseph Yerkes, who had been employed by BP as a VOO operator, wrote in a letter that he distributed at Tuesday night’s meeting that he had “witnessed and reported” suspicious activity over the Gulf of Mexico on July 30.
Yerkes, who was sitting on the back porch of his third floor condo about 1:30 p.m., wrote that he witnessed a military C-130 “flying from the north to the south, dropping to low levels of elevation then obviously spraying or releasing an unknown substance from the rear of the plane.”
The unknown substance, Yerkes wrote, “was not smoke, for the residue fell to the water, where smoke would have lingered.”
Austin Norwood, whose boat is contracted by Florida Fish and Wildlife, also provided a written account of a “strange incident.”
While Norwood was observing wildlife offshore, he had received a call from his site supervisor at Joe’s Bayou. After telling the supervisor that he and his crewmember were not feeling well, the supervisor had the two men come in “to get checked out because a plane had been reported in our area spraying a substance on the water about 10-20 minutes before.”
Norwoord complained of a bad headache, nasal congestion while his crewmember said he had a metallic taste in his mouth.
After filling out an incident report, both Norwood and his crewmember were directed to go to the hospital. The following day, the two men were once again “asked to go to the hospital for blood tests.”
When reached for comment, Lt. Cmdr. Dale Vogelsang, liaison officer with the United State Coast Guard, told The Log he had contacted Unified Command and they had “confirmed” that dispersants were not being used in Florida waters.
“Dispersants are only being used over the wellhead in Louisiana,” Vogelsang said. “We are working with Eglin and Hurlburt to confirm what the flight pattern may be. But right now, it appears to be a normal flight.”
Vogelsang also said Unified Command confirmed to him that C-130s have never been used to distribute dispersants, as they “typically use smaller aircraft.”
But according to an article by the 910th Airlift Wing Public Affairs Office, based in Youngstown, OH., C-130H Hercules aircraft started aerial spray operations Saturday, May 1, under the direction of the president of the United States and Secretary of Defense. “The objective of the aerial spray operation is to neutralize the oil spill with oil dispersing agents,” the article states.
A July Lockheed Martin Newsletter states that “Lockheed Martin aircraft, including C-130s and P-3s, have been deployed to the Gulf region by the Air Force, Coast Guard and other government customers to perform a variety of tasks, such as monitoring, mapping and dispersant spraying.”
Neither of the articles specify the operations have taken place in Florida.
After The Log spoke with Vogelsang Friday morning, he once again reiterated that “no dispersants were being used in Florida waters,” and no dispersants have been used anywhere since mid-July. When The Log asked Vogelsang about the two articles, which state C-130s have been used for dispersant spraying, he said “if they were being used here locally to spray dispersants, then Unified Command didn’t know about it.”
Yerkes said he has a friend who is sick from whatever has been sprayed, and he intends to find out what it is. He has recently been in contact with various attorneys who are interested in his case, including the law firm that represented Erin Brockovich.
“If I have to be the Erin Brockovich of Okaloosa County, I am going to do it,” he said.