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Progress in Gulf oil spill beach cleanup satisfies Orange Beach mayor

David Ferrara, Press-Register David Ferrara, Press-Register

ORANGE BEACH, Alabama — Before the beach deep-cleaning process began, Orange Beach Mayor Tony Kennon was uncertain that BP PLC officials were taking his end-of-the-year deadline seriously.

But on Friday, at the end of the second week of the effort to remove oil from below the surface of the sand, Kennon’s opinion had shifted, as large, sand-filtering equipment continued to push westward.

“This is like a deep-clean supersize,” Kennon said. “We’re cleaning a much, much wider area.

“We’re involved in the decision-making process now, and they (BP) have just brought in so many more assets.” The mayor credited the Alabama Department of Environmental Management with holding the oil giant to a Jan. 1 end date for making sure Orange Beach sands are restored. BP officials have said that they marked out spots where large swathes of oil — called tar mats — had been buried.

The state agency is monitoring the progress of what’s being called “phase three” of cleanup efforts, according to ADEM spokesman Scott Hughes.

“We are certainly supportive of the local government officials and their desire to get the cleanup conducted as quickly as possible to allow them to ensure that the beaches are clean,” Hughes said. “We’ll work with them to ensure that BP achieves that goal.”

BP also started posting its progress online with a map at bp.com/Alabama. As of Friday, the map showed two 500-yard-long sections of beach — one at the eastern border of the state, the other farther west near Cotton Bayou State Park — marked with a white line and the word “cleaned.”

But BP spokesman Ray Melick said that did not mean officials had cleared tar mats and tarballs from those areas according to ADEM standards.

“That just means we’ve moved off the area, and we’re going to have the SCAT (Shoreline Cleanup Assessment Technique) teams go back and check it,” Melick said.

At that point, ADEM will comb the areas to determine whether BP met the cleanup standards, according to Hughes.

“If ADEM feels that goals have not been achieved, we’ll mandate that additional cleaning be done,” Hughes said. “The goal for the public beaches is no visible oil.” BP’s map also shows two sections as “work in progress,” and the oil giant has closed off those sections of the beach while work crews, tractors, bulldozers and 40-foot “Sand Sharks” plow the shoreline.

In some areas, the heaviest equipment had dug up tar mats as deep as 3 feet below the surface, according to Hughes.

But neither ADEM nor BP could say how much oil had been removed from the Alabama shore as of Friday.

Another blue stretch on the map shows “work to be addressed 11/1/2010” between the condo towers Turquoise Place Resort and Phoenix VI.

Melick said the crews typically work in one of the 500-yard sections for three days at a time.

Even though Kennon said Friday he was confident the cleanup would be completed by the end of the year, BP officials are reluctant to confirm the deadline.

“That’s kind of a delicate issue,” Melick said. He has said that weather or other unforeseen events could slow the work.

Kennon said he has city officials, along with ADEM, following the cleanup day by day.

“Everybody knows that we will not get 100 percent of the oil,” the mayor said. “But our intention is to document and quantify how much is on the beach. Then we’ll have data to make us whole.”

source: Progress in Gulf oil spill beach cleanup satisfies Orange Beach mayor | al.com

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