Letter: BP will get to it…when they can

I’ve heard several complaints about the BP help lines, especially on the tarballs. I was sent this letter today. The decontamination and Vessels of Opportunity program have issues, too:

I found an oil slick in Pensacola Bay on June 14th. I called the appropriate numbers and video taped with my I phone. I gave the GPS Coordinates and was told someone would get to it when they could. This seems totally inappropriate for a sighting of an oil slick with tar balls inside the Bay just a half mile off the Three mile bridge that goes to Gulf Breeze and Pensacola Beach. Since that spotting was announced, tar balls and oil have been found in Sabine Bay. The oil was traveling with the tide line that day.

The county officials had not shut down the Pensacola Pass to pleasure boats. Pleasure boats were going out into the Gulf and returning covered in oil without being stopped for decontamination. The work boats had been told they must go through Decontamination outside of Pass before returning to harbor. I have photos of a recreational boat returning into the Marina, the bottom black with oil. What good are we doing if we don’t stop the boat traffic from bringing it back into our marinas and bays?

Unfortunately the decontamination process is not working well outside the pass. A lot of the BP contracted boats are coming in and trailing their boats to car washes or home to clean off the oil, which then runs into our sewage system. The system obviously needs to be improved, but more important is to stop recreational boating from bringing the oil into the sensitive area of bays/rivers.

I would be considered part of the small people. I was hired as crew on a local boat that had been contracted by BP’s contractors. I worked ten days and when arriving for the 7am safety meeting on day eleven, I was informed the boat had been deactivated and I could go home. I know of four boats deactivated that day. I know of another twenty that have been ordered to stand down, sit all day at site waiting for instructions, while their boats remain on trailers, but they are being paid. The pay is $1600.00 to $2800.00 per day for boat and crew. The Captain and crew are paid $200.00 each and the rest applies to the vessel.

My own boat has been registered for almost a month and has not been activated. There are boat owners, non commercial, who have two and three boats registered and working within the program drawing $4,400.00 a day for boat and crew. This does not leave much opportunity for the small people who lost wages from working in waterfronts restaurants for lack of tourist in the area. The operation has been called a cluster by almost everyone who is participating within the “Vessels of Opportunity” program.

Organization is non-existent in this cluster. No two supervisors give the same answer. The safety meetings and boat inspections are given by different people every couple of days. Safety meetings consist of drinking enough fluids as not to dehydrate since you are out on the water for long periods of time. The last day we went out was a brutally hot day, heat index between 105 and 110 degrees. We were told that day that our time in at 7am for the safety meeting did not count as part of our task. We were told to start our task time when we arrived at our first observation point after leaving the marina site.

That day it took the sites inspectors and safety personnel until 8:30 to get us out on the water. My boat did not reach its first boom site until 8:57am. From this point they wanted me to check boom for eight hours, then I could report back in. That day lasted ten and a half hours. The buddy boat assigned to me had engine failure and limped back in at 4:30 with me following him in. Part of the safety program is to keep your buddy boat within sight and to come in together. Both boats were deactivated the next day, along with several others.

-Shirle Broach Pfister