Horn Island oil clean-up presents logistics challenge

HORN ISLAND, MS (WLOX) - By Steve Phillips – bio | email

HORN ISLAND, MS (WLOX) - About 35 clean-up workers spent the day on Horn Island Thursday, picking up thousands of tar balls and clumps of oil. It's a task that began June 17 and will continue into the foreseeable future.

Logistics is one of the biggest challenges with the ongoing barrier island clean-up. The work is methodical and monotonous; not to mention oppressively hot. Workers scoop, sift and shove the sometimes elusive target.

On this afternoon, scattered fields of small tar balls litter the western edge of Horn Island's south shore.

"Last week, we hit a good spot with some heavy stuff in it. We knew it was there because when the storm Bonnie came through it uncovered it. And we came back the next day and a lot of it got covered up, but we knew it was there," said crew leader Raymond Pitts Jr.

Park Ranger Patricia Kraft is on loan from Biscayne National Park in Florida. She is impressed with Horn Island.

"It's gorgeous. It's peaceful. It's undeveloped. It's got nice vegetation and wildlife," said the ranger.

The vast majority of this wilderness island remains pristine; untainted by oil. Away from the work crews, you'd never know there was a crisis.  Beautiful scenes abound, as blue crabs play in the blue-green waters.

BP's promise is to restore those areas that are littered with oil.

"Everybody working out here, you get the sense that there is a passion for the fact that this is a special place and the work that we're doing is important to restore it to where it should be," said BP spokesman, Richard Judy.

Island logistics are challenging. Crews must be ferried to and from the offshore work site. The visiting ranger wishes there were more.

"But I understand you've got logistics. You can't flood the beach with teams. You have logistic problems. If you get a thunderstorm, you have to worry about evacuation," said Ranger Kraft.

The longevity of this island assignment is open-ended.

"We'll be here as long as it takes. And it may be a little slow, 'cause you can't get as many people out here as you like because there are some environmental sensitivities. Having said that, we're going to do it as long as it takes," Judy explained.

About 25 workers are assigned to the beach clean up on Horn Island.  The other 10 crew members work in the more environmentally sensitive marshland and birding areas.

A number of oil covered birds have been rescued from the island since the clean-up began. The animals are taken by boat to an on-shore clean-up facility.

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