BP and state officials tour Horn Island

HORN ISLAND, MS (WLOX) - By Doug Walker – bio | email

HORN ISLAND, MS (WLOX) - The number two man at BP paid the coast a visit Wednesday, checking out the clean up efforts on the Mississippi barrier islands. Islands that were covered in oil earlier this summer are looking much better.

Mike Utsler, the chief operating officer at BP also learned about new high tech equipment that is helping to scour the beaches in the search for oil.

Wednesday's boat trip began in Bayou Cassote, and traveled past drilling rigs that look eerily similar to the Deepwater Horizon rig that blew up in April, sending millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf.

An hour later, the beauty of Horn Island appeared. Then, we rode across the middle of the island to the Gulf side where the problems persist. Five specialized machines rake the beaches, unveiling whatever debris lies beneath the sand. Utsler said the machines have been used for years on beaches, but never like this.

"We've been able to modify that technology into its use in helping us fight this challenge of picking up these small tar balls that you've had an opportunity to see in a few places."

Even with the help of machines, human labor is needed in the more sensitive areas of Horn Island. Workers must still meticulously pick through the sand.

While no one at BP can say how long it's going to take to clean up Mississippi's barrier islands, Butler said they're hoping that by next year, significant progress will have been made.

"We'll then be looking at level three, or final scat clean-up targeted to go through the spring and summer of next year.  A full growth cycle for the marshes and the wetlands, a full storm season of winter and summer storms."

State environmental officials on the tour were pleased by what they saw. One of them was the director of the state Department of Environmental Quality, Trudy Fisher.

"You can see a real difference that it's making," Fisher said. "It's going down subsurface about three inches and it's having very real results. So it's a very good thing that's going on out here."

Dr. Bill Walker, the director of the Department of Marine Resources, said the island is recovering the pristine look so familiar before the spill.

"I would say, if nothing else is done, the island would recover," Walker said.  "What you're seeing out here is weathered oil that's going to continue to weather and go away like the typical tar balls that wash up here all the time."

After the tour, Butler also announced that several restoration field offices would be opened by BP over the next couple of months in the states affected by the spill. He expects offices to open in all three Mississippi coastal counties.

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