Coastal leaders frustrated with British Petroleum

By Ben Roberts - bio | email

Walton County, FL -  (WALB)  - Walton County emergency managers who have monitored the disaster from two Emergency Operation Centers say they can't respond to problems as well as they'd like because B-P is in charge of the cleanup.

They say several weeks ago when oil was washing ashore there, BP had 50 cleanup workers in the entire county. Now that there aren't severe problems, there are 1,700 workers without a whole lot to do.

"A lot of problems inherent with a private organization running the show," said Walton Co. Sheriff's Capt. Mike Barker. "And disaster, this is not their day job. This not what they do. This is what we do."

Walton County has spent a lot of money trying to protect the shore and rare dune lakes and flying recon missions. They asked BP for a $1.5 million reimbursement but haven't gotten a response.

Captain Barker says instead of using FEMA reimbursement guidelines that counties are familiar with, BP is making up its own and has already changed those guidelines six or eight times.

Those 1,700 contracted cleanup workers are ready to pounce if they get a report of big problems on a beach.

In the meantime around Grayton Beach, they're roaming the beaches looking for small problems. Annie Scoles is visiting Grayton Beach from Atlanta. She says those crews keep a constant presence on the beach, but it's not disrupting her vacation.

"They're everywhere. It's like they're just all over the place. One comes this way, and then the other comes that way. There's always people everywhere."

Those workers are finding scattered tiny tar balls, but no major problems this week in Walton County. Farther west in Pensacola, you'll find heavy equipment and more clean-up crews working all day and night to remove any sign of oil from the beaches.

We caught up with this clean-up crew close to Fort Pickens as they headed home for the day. They spent the day separating oil-contaminated trash from safe trash onto bulldozers and using these plastic covered shovels to scoop tar balls from the beach.

According to the city's website which is updated daily, minimal tarballs were reported on Pensacola Beach and beneath the surface one-half mile offshore, but beaches in the area are open and swimming is not prohibited.

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