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Monday, June 21, 2010

Tar Balls on Panama City Beach

Below is the local news in Panama City.

PANAMA CITY BEACH — Cleanup crews were stretched out along western Bay County beaches Saturday, picking up the first coined-sized tar balls and smaller tar “flecks” from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill that residents and officials have dreaded for weeks but knew were coming.

The first tar balls were noticed Friday night on the far west end of Bay County beaches, and an oil sheen was floating 5 miles offshore of Lake Powell, Mark Bowen, Bay County’s emergency services director, said Saturday.

The first oiled bird, a pied-billed grebe, also was rescued after witnesses noticed the bird had oil on its neck and was in distress, Bowen said.

Tri-State Bird Rescue, a nonprofit wildlife rescue and rehabilitation organization and BP contractor, has taken custody of the animal, county spokeswoman Valerie Lovett said. The bird has been taken to Pensacola for rehabilitation.

“This is harsh, very harsh news for people to hear,” Bowen said, but he asked the community to brace for more bad news if the wellhead near Louisiana’s coast is not capped. The spigot, a mile underneath the surface, is currently leaking millions of gallons of oil a day.

“The general trend over the summer is not favorable,” he said. “It’s our turn.”

BP crews were out early Saturday morning placing red flags near small tar bars on west end beaches for later cleanup, and other crews were later slowly combing sand between State 79 and Pier Park, stooping down to pick up small black clumps and smaller flecks the size of pinheads.

Beachgoers continued to sunbathe and play in the water, even as the orange-vested cleanup crews worked around them.

None of the area beaches have been closed for cleanup, Lovett said.

Bowen said the county has contracted privately for several additional near-shore skimmers that should arrive within days and a deep-water vessel that will arrive in two weeks.

He confirmed that the oil currently reaching local beaches had been tested by infrared spectrometer and was from the Deepwater Horizon spill.

“The release has to be stopped,” Bowen said, while indicating that skimming assets were at the sheen site off Lake Powell on Saturday attempting to collect the oil.

Bowen said a couple dozen tar balls were collected Friday night along a 2-mile stretch of beach in western Bay County, but a robust outgoing tide had swept others away by morning, although more continued to be discovered as Saturday wore on.

“This product is driven by currents and wind,” he said, indicating the elements favored Bay County over the next couple days.

Bowen said the county has collected an enormous amount of boom for deployment to protect the passes, but “I won’t tell you we have everything we need.”

Federal waters west and southwest of Panama City Beach continue to be off-limits to fishing, while federal waters south of Shell Island and all state waters in the area are open.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection has reported that an “oil plume” was 36 miles from Mexico Beach. A lone tar ball washed ashore early Sunday on the tip of Cape San Blas in Gulf County, the farthest east the oil spill has reached.

Beachgoers are advised not to touch any of the tar goo. Reports of oil can be called into the local hotline at 850-248-6030.

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