Playing Tarball


ATTENTION, TOURISTS: The mainland of the Gulf of Mexico is clean and open for business.

However, some tarballs do occasionally wash up on the Gulf’s barrier islands and in similar areas – as they did last week on the tip of the Fort Morgan peninsula, where they ranged from the size of a nickel to a person’s palm.

The good news is, these aren’t the soft, sticky tarballs of last summer. They’re firmer and more weathered. And, too, BP crews are cleaning up the mess this week.

But the company’s contractors shouldn’t have let the tarballs accumulate on the peninsula in the first place — which they did by knocking off for a 10-day holiday break. That imprudent decision gave Mother Nature and the currents a chance to gain the upper hand.

It’s incumbent upon the oil company’s crews to keep a steady vigil so that visible tarballs and tar patties are gathered quickly and beaches are restored to their natural splendor on Fort Morgan as well as on the barrier islands – Petit Bois, Horn, Ship and Cat – off Mississippi’s coast.

The company owes it to the people of the region to ensure that the lingering effects of the oil spill – or misperceptions about sheets of oil washing ashore – don’t scare tourists away, further harming the economy.

On the mainland, BP has already cleaned up the obvious debris and has gone well beyond the surface, employing huge machines to excavate deep into the sand, digging up tar that has been buried during the past few months.

So why are tarballs still washing up on the north side of Fort Morgan peninsula? One factor is probably because the confluence of currents in the area makes the tip of peninsula a catch point for such things as shells, tarballs and other materials carried by the waves.

It’s likely that the area will require frequent cleanings for some time to come.

Overall, beaches on the mainland of Alabama and Mississippi, as well as on the Gulf side of Fort Morgan peninsula, remain relatively free of tarballs. That’s encouraging as the 2011 tourist season approaches.

Expectations are high that tourism will rebound after last year’s disastrous showing.

Later, after the summer ends, BP is expected to pay for beach renourishment projects – a commitment that certainly pleased local governments in Alabama.

In the end, though, it’s important to remember that whether BP is cleaning, excavating or renewing the beaches, the company isn’t doing us a favor.

It’s simply fulfilling a pledge it made to make things right on the Gulf of Mexico.

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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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