July 20, 2010 – Save the Water™ Visits the Horizon Oil Spill Area of Grand Isle, Louisiana, Destin and Pensacola, Florida.
After submitting various Save the Water™ (STW™) proposals to BP and the U.S. Coast Guard, Frank Ramos, president and CEO of STW™ and Pedro Maza, a volunteer, traveled to Louisiana and the panhandle of Florida to see firsthand the situation on the ground at the spill.
The trip was made with the intention of making contacts, visiting the BP Command Center in Houma, La., and taking pictures of the affected area. Communication in the area was not productive, since it seems the local news is not covering the disaster in detail. The people we talked with had very little information regarding the spill and at times the information supplied was not accurate.
Attempts were made to speak with Coast Guard personnel in restaurants and other places we encountered them, but the response was that no information would be given and that we should contact the Coast Guard Command Center.
At the gate of the BP Command Center we were stopped by security and given a printed sheet of paper with phone numbers to contact. When I called from my cell phone (STW™ cell phone) the operator who answered the phone knew who I was and that the number was registered to STW™. She also knew that we had filled out a form with BP offering our services. She responded that BP would contact us if they needed our services.
The oiled beaches were closed by local police and no access was possible. Beaches that had already been cleaned of oil were open and we were able to take some pictures of personnel decontamination stations and some residual oil left behind. Evidence of heavy oiling of the area was observed by the number of 40’ dumpsters located along the main road of Grand Isle. These dumpsters were covered and secured so that we could not look inside.
We traveled to the very tip of Grand Isle, to the Grand Isle State Park and paid $1 per person to enter the park. No one was on the beach but us and two fishermen on the pier. We were able to go out on the pier and the observation tower and take pictures of an area that had been previously oiled and cleaned. It was obvious that heavy oil had reached the beach by the number of clean-up stations and the staging of a large BP operation center. While taking pictures there we were approached by a BP employee who was returning with a crew, and he informed us that BP did not want pictures taken of their operations. Later while talking to the locals, we were informed that there is a $10,000 fine per picture being assessed to violators.
On the return trip, we stopped at Destin and Pensacola Beach and there were people on the beaches but not as many as would be in the peak of the season. A clean-up crew of about a dozen was taking turns walking the beach in hazard protection suits looking for tar balls. We followed closely for about an hour to see if any were found. There were no tar balls on the beach.
The extensive use of oil dispersant has caused most of the oil to drop to the bottom of the Gulf killing everything at the bottom which is the beginning of the food chain. It would have been less harmful to the ecosystems if the oil would have been collected from the surface or the shore; but for BP, out of sight means out of mind, less expense, and less bad publicity.
In conclusion, our trip turned out to be different than what we expected in that BP and the government are making sure that only the information they want gets out to the public. I felt as if the people of the area were under fear of huge fines if intervening or getting near anything that had to do with the spill.