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June 10, 2010 / V A Nichols

Oil Reaches Orange Beach

Oil spill washes up in Orange Beach — and more is on the way

Published: Thursday, June 10, 2010, 5:00 AM     Updated: Thursday, June 10, 2010, 8:46 AM

Josh Bean

From shrimp nets in the Mississippi Sound to the back bays and bayous around Orange Beach, brown globs of oil stained previously pristine areas Wednesday.

And more oil is likely on the way.

The latest forecast from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration calls for oil contamination along beaches from Mississippi’s barrier islands in the west to Pensacola in the east during the next few days.

Orange Beach residents watched Wednesday as oil moved through Perdido Pass and washed into sensitive back bays and bayous. In response, some residents attended a community meeting wearing T-shirts that proclaimed, “We’ve been BPeed on!”

On the other end of Alabama’s coastline, the Alabama Marine Resources Division officials found oil on their net at seven of eight locations while sampling the size of brown shrimp in Mississippi Sound, said supervising marine biologist John Mareska.

Mareska said sheen was not seen at any of the locations where oil was found. There was sheen at the eighth location, Aloe Bay, but the nets turned up no oil. Locations where the nets emerged oily were the Katrina Cut off the west end of Dauphin Island, the south end of Coffee Island, Marsh Island, Barren Point and Portersville and Heron bays, Mareska said. He said shrimp sampling in lower Mobile Bay did not turn up any oil.

Photos were taken, he said, but none of the globs were kept for sampling. There was no oil found on the shrimp sampled, he said, but they remained too small to open Alabama’s shrimp season.

“The subsurface oil concerns me greatly,” Mareska said. “When it’s on the surface, we can quantify it, but we don’t have any equipment to quantify how much could be under the surface. We don’t know if this was oil that was on the surface that settled or if it was subsurface oil that crept in. We just don’t know.”

Gov. Bob Riley said Wednesday that a $15 million project to fill Katrina Cut has been bid. The 1.3-mile gap on the west end of Dauphin Island did not exist until 2005, when Hurricane Katrina created it.

“We’re going to return it to the state it was,” Riley said in a statement, that also said Riley believed the Coast Guard will grant approval for the project “very soon.”

With oil confirmed at so many locations in Mississippi Sound, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Commissioner Barnett Lawley said that he likely will be forced to close the area to fishing.

“I hate like hell to close it,” Lawley said, “but the probability is extremely high.”

Lawley said that he’s reluctant to close the state waters because a lengthy testing protocol is required before they can be reopened, and NOAA is months behind on the tests.

President Obama is scheduled to visit the Gulf Coast again early next week, with likely stops in Alabama and Mississippi. Federal authorities promised Wednesday to get more involved in BP PLC’s claims process.

BP, which owns the damaged Deepwater Horizon well that has been leaking into the Gulf since April 20, needs to do more to explain its handling of damage claims stemming from the Gulf spill, according to a letter from Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen. Allen, who is coordinating the spill response, also has met with BP officials on the matter, he said.

While BP Chief Executive Tony Hayward and other BP executives have said the company will pay all “legitimate claims,” critics have questioned whether they are living up to that pledge.

Throughout a six-state region ranging from Texas to Georgia, BP had received some 37,150 claims from individuals and businesses as of Monday and paid off on almost half, according to company figures provided Wednesday at the Press-Regiser’s request. The balance of the claims are awaiting additional documentation, a BP spokesman said. None has been rejected.

In Alabama,  BP had received 7,600 claims and paid some $8.9 million to cover anticipated lost income or net profit. In Mississippi, about 4,000 claims had been filed; $5.5 million had been paid.

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