Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill Blog Pensacola



Crews move to next level of beach cleaning

by Travis Griggs •

Oil spill cleanup crews in Florida and Alabama began digging this week to uncover oil buried under beaches during the BP spill.

On Monday, BP officials in Alabama launched “Operation Deep Clean,” a coordinated effort which uses heavy equipment and manual labor to collect oil deposited as much as 18 to 24 inches deep.

“This is the start of what we’ve all talked about for a couple of months now, of really getting these beaches back to the level of clean we want them to be at,” said Ray Melick, BP’s Alabama Community Liaison.

Because of federal regulations and environmental concerns, cleanup crews were previously limited to collecting oil less than six inches from the surface. But changing tides and surf action buried much of the oil up to two feet deep.

Keith Wilkins, deputy chief of Escambia County’s Community Services Bureau, said Escambia County has received approval to deep clean Florida beaches, and crews on Perdido Key and Pensacola Beach began digging for oil this week.

“Now they have the authority to go as deep as they need to go,” Wilkins said.

Two deep cleaning “task forces” were working in Alabama on Monday, with one just west of the Flora-Bama Lounge & Package.

Both groups are assigned about a dozen pieces of heavy equipment, including specialized “Sand Shark” machines and modified beach sweepers and “old-fashioned tractors and plows,” Melick said.

Escambia County received a permit to dig on Pensacola Beach on Friday, but work was delayed until this week to keep from interfering with the DeLuna Fest music festival, Wilkins said. The permit to dig on Perdido Key arrived Monday.

Wilkins said crews will work cautiously at first to make sure the machines are not damaging beaches.

“They’ll be working their machines very slowly and carefully until they see how it works at that depth,” Wilkins said.

BP officials declined to give a solid date for the completion of cleanup operations, but said their goal was to be finished by the start of the summer tourist season.

“We feel confident they can market the beaches for spring break, and we’re going to have this done for them in a good, timely fashion,” Melick said.

Perdido Key resident Bruce Alexander, 64, paused as he walked on the beach with his wife to look at a tractor-trailer sized scraper that was sifting sand.

Alexander said the sight of heavy machinery was more welcome than that of oil washing ashore, but he hoped the machines would be gone and his favorite beach back to normal.

“I’m interested to see how it all comes out,” Alexander said.

“We want to be able to say next spring that it’s back to where it was,” he said.

Source: Crews move to next level of beach cleaning | | Pensacola News Journal

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