DMR issues stop work order to coastal counties, cities

HARRISON COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - The Department of Marine Resources has issued a stop order for new equipment or projects paid for through BP grants. For the next 30 days, DMR will review where efforts are before the grant program is discontinued on September 8.

DMR's letter to local officials wasn't what Harrison County Board of Supervisors President Connie Rockco was expecting to see in her inbox.

"We thought that our commitment would last through the end of the year, as far as our claims to BP from DMR," Rockco said.

MDMR Executive Director Dr. Bill Walker issued the stop work order to Harrison County supervisors Friday. But leaders in all three coastal counties, and the cities within those counties, will receive similar letters.

WLOX News received a copy Dr. Walker's letter which stated, "Because of the diminished threat from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the MDMR is directing all recipients of the Mississippi British Petroleum Deepwater Horizon Response Block Grant sub-grants to not initiate any new response projects and to stop all work under their sub-grant agreement effective August 9, 2010."

The letter said the Stop Work Order will remain in effect for 30 days while the MDMR and MDEQ evaluate the continuing effects from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Dr. Walker said there should be no new threats to Mississippi coastal waters from liquefied oil, although tar balls and tar patties will likely continue to wash ashore for several months or longer.

"The information that I have is that these tar balls and tar patties will not contaminate our marine waters and will not destroy our sensitive marsh habitat," Walker wrote.

With a permanent fix to the leaking well inching closer to completion, Long Beach's Civil Defense Director George Bass said response efforts are moving into another phase.

"We had been anticipating this. We knew that once the well was capped that in a few weeks, we'd be expecting this letter," Bass said. "We have made the purchases needed to make our initial response and that phase of operation is over with and we're moving toward recovery."

But leaders like Rockco say with any oil still washing ashore, now is not the time for a stop order.

"We want to be part of the planning process and if we feel it necessary for clean-up or mechanical equipment, we want to have that option. And that was supposed to be until the end of the year," Rockco said.

"We're very concerned about where the $50 million that was given to the state is going. Are they going back to BP?"

As officials continue receiving letters, the hope is that everyone focuses on the best interest of the coast moving forward.

"We feel like after that 30 day evaluation, if we see that we have an incident where we need to funded by any other means that they will step forward," Rockco said. "Of course, we want further clarification as to what exactly plan to cover in the claims process. The other is we need ways to work hand in hand with DEQ and DMR."

The letter does state that if unforeseen circumstances arise, the grant agreement may be reopened. It goes on to say if officials have projects they feel can not be suspended, they have until August 16 to submit those requests. DMR and the Department of Environmental Quality will review the requests to determine if the projects should be completed.

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