FORT MORGAN, Alabama – While cleaning crews moved along the water line, tarballs that a property owner said have been on the beach for months lay untouched a few feet away.
Greg Miller of Fort Morgan Realty said recent reports by BP PLC that the beach cleanup is winding down have him concerned that sites such as the Gulf-front house he owns five miles from the fort will be left uncleaned when the process is done.
“It’s been that way all summer,” Miller said. “We’ve asked them numerous times to clean it up and then this past Sunday, it came out in the paper that it was all clean, so I thought I’d go down and see. They tell us they’re cleaning it and you can see where they’ve been out there working, but when you look close, it’s all still there.”
Miller said that when potential renters call asking if oil is still on the beach, he has to say that tarballs caused by the April 20 BP PLC oil spill are in the sand. The material has caused some renters to cancel or change plans, he said.
“We filed claims with BP,” Miller said. “The claims on that particular house have been denied.”
The tarballs ranged in size up to about four inches in diameter. Patches of the material lay along an area about 40 feet from the water
Tire prints and the tread marks of heavy machinery mark the sand, some of the tracks running over the tarballs. Miller said the tracks are from the cleaning crews, some of which are in place about 100 yards from the house.
“They run all over it every day. How can they just drive over it? I know they don’t have to do a deep clean, but for God’s sake … at least pick it up,” Miller said. “We’re 10 months into this deal and that’s the condition of the beach now.”
Orange Beach Mayor Tony Kennon said officials from Gulf Shores, Dauphin Island and Orange Beach will meet Monday with representatives from the Alabama Department of Environmental Management, U.S. Coast Guard, congressional delegation and other agencies to discuss cleanup efforts. Kennon said the meeting would not be open to the public.
Kennon said oil is still washing on shore and that tarballs left in one area can affect the entire beach.
“It doesn’t just stay there,” Kennon said. “It washes back in the water and moves east and west.”
Justin Saia, BP spokesman, said the material will be cleaned up even though some of the biggest cleaning efforts are winding down.
“We’ve got crews out there and plans are in place beyond Operation Deep Clean,” Saia said.
Grant Brown, Gulf Shores spokesman, said city officials also do not want cleaning efforts halted before all the oil is removed from local beaches.
“We’re very concerned,” he said. “We’re aware of the situation in that location and we want those situations resolved.”
Brown said officials with ADEM have been contacted about the site near Miller’s rental house, which is also next to property owned by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.
Beaches were cleaner farther to the east with no tarballs or other material visible at the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge or other locations. On the refuge beach, Paula Hamman of Medford, Wis., said she had seen a few scattered tarballs while collecting shells, but few other signs of oil. “I saw some shells that had some oil on them, but that’s about it,” she said.
Her mother, Lilah Hammond, said she had seen few tarballs in the month she had been visiting from Adams, Wis. “A little bit, but nothing like I expected after everything I’d heard,” she said. “I was so glad of that. We come down every year, although we missed last year, and I was so worried.”