Panhandle officials frustrated with BP on cleanup efforts


Gordon Goodin has had enough.

He’s tired of workers not coming to clean up the oil.

He’s sick of watching them have two-hour meetings every morning.

And he’s angry that they show up for work without shovels, rakes and bags.

The Santa Rosa County commissioner said he will be asking the federal government to change the way it is handling the Florida response to the ongoing gusher in the Gulf of Mexico.

He wants the Navy to coordinate the cleanup on the water – not the Coast Guard.

He wants Craig Fugate, the director of FEMA who led Florida’s recovery through many hurricanes, to be on loan to counties as they are allowed to clean up the mess that lands on their own shores.

As for the Coast Guard? He wants that agency to just worry about plugging the leak on the Gulf floor.

“It is the most confounding thing any of us ever have seen,” an angry Goodin said. “The response we are getting now is so stupid. There is no common sense being applied anywhere. I’m so insulted by the stupidity of this that I can barely stand it.”

He said he had been promised there would be a crew of 100 people in place Tuesday night to clean up an invasion of tar balls.

“I went out there and there was no sign of anyone,” Goodin said. “They did not show. Who can I hold accountable for that?”

The county commissioner and other Panhandle officials have grown increasingly frustrated with the way the Coast Guard and BP have conducted the cleanup in their counties. They have seen tourism take a big hit as oil washes up on their formerly pristine white beaches.

Even more oil was pushed onto shore today, courtesy of large waves spawned by Hurricane Alex. Tar balls the size of dinner plates came in with the surf on Navarre Beach in Santa Rosa County. High surf the next couple of days is expected to bring more of the same.

As the invasion of oil mounts, so does the outrage over what many call a lack of response.

Goodin was frustrated today when officials tried to ask the Coast Guard for skimmers inside Pensacola Bay to clean up oil that had been visible along the tide line for the last three days.

“They said they had to study it to see if it was a good idea,” Goodin said. “They say they have to study it? You have to be kidding me.”

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson has said in the past that the Navy’s command and control structure would be better equipped to handle response to the worst environmental disaster to affect the United States.

“I have articulated that from the very beginning,” Nelson said today. “It should be the military, especially the Navy. But the administration has chosen to keep it as it is.”

Nelson said he has heard from representatives of some North Florida counties that the situation is getting better.

“I am pleased with the improvement, but there is still a long way to go,” the Democratic senator from Florida said.

Mike Sole, secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection, urged county leaders not to get frustrated in a telephone conference call this afternoon. He pledged that things would get better as a branch system designed to bring more involvement to the county level was put in place.

“I am hearing about folks wanting to buy skimmers” on their own, Sole said, cautioning against such a thing. “There is a high risk you are going to be on the hook for that skimmer.”

Goodin told Sole that officials can’t help but be frustrated.

“This week, things have gotten worse,” he said. “I don’t know what it takes to shake things up.”

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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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