Wednesday, July 21, 2010

BP Neighbor Not Happy

Miramar Beach woman cries foul, BP cleanup crew moves next door

July 19, 2010 06:59:00 AM
JENNIE HOBBS / Florida Freedom Newspapers

MIRAMAR BEACH — Every since a BP cleanup crew moved in next door, “my privacy is toast,” said Kelly Thomas of Miramar Beach.

“I had no clue, no one told me a thing, I still don’t know anything, except for they are out there,” Thomas told The Sun. “I came home from work one day and they’re putting up power poles, and it just continues to grow with more people. Then a couple of days later, at 5:45 a.m., they’re parking outside my bedroom window. I can’t sleep because my house is shaking so bad from the entourage of busses, bulldozers and four-wheelers.”

CrowderGulf, one of five companies in the county subcontracted to clean up the beaches in the wake of the oil rig blowout, has taken residence in Thomas’ once quiet neighborhood. The camp, located across the street from the Jehovah’s Witness church, boasts more than 425 workers, four large circus-type tents, a battery of ATV and earth moving vehicles, roll-off trash canisters, and stationary and travel trailers.

The cleanup staging area on Hatchew Road is one of many taking shape around Walton County in the last couple of weeks. They are part of BP’s plans to streamline cleanup and coordination efforts. In Destin, a command center is based out of Henderson Beach State Park. In Walton County, a cleanup crew outpost is located on Hwy. 331, just north of the Choctawhatchee Bay Bridge. They also have satellite staging areas in state parks around Walton County.

“I’ve called everyone … the commissioner, Code Enforcement, and even the governor, and no one can tell me who is responsible for this,” Thomas said.

Nicolas Morlino, community support coordinator for BP in Walton County, said the companies were given "free range" to choose the locations, but not for long.

Cecilia Jones, commissioner for District 5, told The Sun she does not know what process was used to decide on where to set up the staging areas.

"The commissioner's office has had no communication with BP on this," Jones said. "I wish they had, then the planning office could have helped avoid this problem. Most of the locations are OK, with good roads and not in a residential area."

But Rick Stabler, project manger with CrowderGulf, said county leaders were kept in the loop.

“We selected the site, met with EOC people, got permits and power,” he said. “It was not an arbitrary decision.”

He said he would work with Thomas to resolve the situation.

“We absolutely want to be a good neighbor,” he said.

But for Thomas, it has been tough getting answers.

“Unless you have a wildlife or oil spill incident to report the response is ‘oh, we’ll get back to you’ or ‘do you want to make a claim?’ ” Thomas said of her repeated attempts to find answers from BP’s call center. “I didn’t have a claim, but I have started to get bids on a privacy fence.”

The bids may not be necessary. The Sun raised the issue at a Wednesday meeting with BP’s Chief Operating Officer Doug Suttles, who was in Destin touring the outpost at Henderson Beach.

“If that’s a problem we need to go and fix it,” Suttles said of Thomas’ predicament. “This is where working together with local officials, the public and community comes in — to see how do we constantly make this response as effective it can be and mitigate the impact.”

He told an assistant about the situation, and they vowed to fix it. But he called for patience in what has become the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history.

“Its horrible, this thing is terrible, but we can work together to at least try to minimize how bad it is. That’s where getting feedback from the community is critical,” Suttles said.


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