As Oil Moves East, Anger Rises

Oil has slinked into the inland waters of Perdido Bay, a body of water on the Alabama-Florida state line. There weren't enough skimmers or boom to corral the brown, gloppy goo. This has infuriated local officials who knew this was coming, and they blame BP and the federal government for not doing more to prevent it. As the oil from the spill has moved east, it's been a familiar story. Will officials in Florida be any more successful?

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

To the Gulf Coast now, where BP has come up short again and again in its efforts to contain the giant oil slick. That's left local governments scrambling to deal with the consequences. Today, local officials made a passionate plea. They want the federal government to cut the red tape and do more to protect their shores.

NPR's Debbie Elliott reports.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT: Grand Isle, Louisiana, Mayor David Carmadelle practically begged the Senate Homeland Security Committee today for more resources to fight the oil that's fouling his island.

Mayor DAVID CARMADELLE (Grand Isle, Louisiana): I just need your help. It's like a war, and we're on the front line.

ELLIOTT: Carmadelle has tried for weeks to get BP and the Coast Guard to seal off five passes that lead from the Gulf of Mexico to sensitive marshes and bayous, to no avail.

Mayor CARMADELLE: I keep on looking at that oil because I watch it every day, every morning coming through these passes. Our Cajun heritage has taught us to work hard, persistent, and we're very resilient. But right now my hands are tied. I'm dealing with an oil company. We have no say-so.

ELLIOTT: At the start of the hearing, Florida Democrat Bill Nelson was irate that protection plans had failed his state.

Senate BILL NELSON (Democrat, Florida): Oil is now entering Florida waters. The orange mousse has come into Perdido Pass into Perdido Bay. Florida was not notified.

ELLIOTT: Carmadelle wasn't surprised.

Mayor CARMADELLE: Mr. Senator from Florida, this is a wake-up call. What we went through seven weeks ago, well, you're just opening your eyes this morning.

ELLIOTT: Perdido Bay is on the Alabama-Florida border. Perdido means lost in Spanish, and local folklore is that it dates back to when Spanish explorers and pirates had a hard time finding the bountiful bay because it had such a tiny opening to the Gulf. Today that opening is Perdido Pass in Orange Beach, Alabama, and the oil had no problem finding it.

(Soundbite of ringing phone)

Captain BRENT "HOLLYWOOD" SHAVER (Inshore Fishing Guide): Hello, Captain Bligh. Hi. I finished this morning. We're done. Oil is all in there. They let it come...

ELLIOTT: Captain Brent Hollywood Shaver could almost pass for a pirate with his bushy gray beard and long locks, but he's an inshore fishing guide who has been fielding countless calls from customers because of the oil.

Capt. SHAVER: It's all up in the bays. You know, incoming tide all night, they blew it.

ELLIOTT: He's been fishing these waters since 1970, and now he says he's worried it's over.

Capt. SHAVER: We're doomed, I think. We can't fish in it. I can't go out there in that mess. I got it all over my lines. It's in my live wells. It's on my boat. They got to wipe your boat down before you come back through the boom to get to the marina.

ELLIOTT: Captain Hollywood and others packed a town hall meeting at the Orange Beach gym yesterday, demanding to know why Perdido Pass wasn't closed off when everyone knew the oil was coming.

Mayor Tony Kennon stood defeated before the crowd.

Mayor TONY KENNON (Orange Beach, Alabama): We wanted to shut the pass down. We wanted to shut the gate on the boom. The Coast Guard would not let us.

ELLIOTT: BP Executive Vice President Kris Sliger said officials had not been able to come up with a booming solution that would work in the strong moving currents that flow in and out of the waterway, but he promised they are working on one.

Mr. KRIS SLIGER (Executive Vice President, TNK-BP Holding): The latest schedules I've seen on this project, called The Perdido Pass Closure, indicate that it will take somewhere between 16 and 17 days.

ELLIOTT: Sixteen or 17 days, too little too late, says Mayor Kennon who can't understand why BP and the Coast Guard have had a staging area overlooking Perdido Pass for weeks, yet allowed this to happen.

When asked about the breach at a news conference in Washington today, Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen appeared to think the pass was protected.

Admiral THAD ALLEN (Commandant, U.S. Coast Guard): There's no hundred percent guarantee that oil won't get through, but one of the more robust booming strategies we have in and around that area is in Perdido Pass.

ELLIOTT: The apparent disconnect in what the officials in charge of the spill say and do and what local officials say they need has played out time and time again in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and now Florida.

Commissioner GENE VALENTINO (Escambia County, Florida): We deserve to be informed.

ELLIOTT: Escambia County Commissioner Gene Valentino represents Perdido Key, Florida, the barrier island south of Perdido Bay. He's dumbfounded that officials didn't warn the local government that oil had come in the pass. Now, the county is starting its own protection plan.

Commissioner VALENTINO: We'll argue about reimbursement and how these events are going to be paid for later. We will be deploying all that we have at our resources locally, whether the state or federal government comes to our aid.

ELLIOTT: As the oil slick moves east, more community leaders will find themselves in this same predicament. It will certainly be a topic of discussion when President Obama comes back to the Gulf Coast next week.

Debbie Elliott, NPR News, Orange Beach, Alabama.

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