Thursday, May 27, 2010

Oil Clean-Up Contractors Not Talking

My friend and canoeing partner, Ernest Herndon, who's a reporter for the Enterprise-Journal newspaper in southwest Mississippi sent me this story from the AP about a gathering of BP-contracted personnel from all over the country converging on the Mississippi Gulf coast.  Interesting that these folks are so tight-lipped and locked down with all that security. 

 3,700 ready to respond to BP oil spill
 BILOXI, Miss. (AP) — They'll tell you where they're from, but otherwise they won't comment — the hundreds of men and women who've been brought in to the Mississippi Coast to work on the BP oil spill. Almost 3,700 are here now, although as time passes workers who had been brought in from all over the U.S. are being replaced by Mississippians. More than 40 percent are local now, a BP spokeswoman said.

The major deployment areas the company has set up along the coast from Pascagoula to Waveland are like hives, with workers moving in and out near rows and rows of equipment for vacuuming, hauling, bagging and moving about the roads, bayous and open water. BP's Marti Powers said the company has contracted with more than 160 companies — some as far away as Norway and some as close as Ocean Springs. Those companies, in turn, hire work forces set to hit the ground running. They're well-schooled on not talking, and each of the major deployment sites has a makeshift security-guard stand.

At BP's "north staging" area, one of two near the industrial area in Pascagoula on Tuesday, the Sun Herald was greeted by an armed security guard wearing a Taser and a local police department shirt who said, "Nobody comes by here who's not authorized. That's all I can tell you."

That's the norm at each site, Powers said. Why all the rock-hard security and secrecy? After all, it's an oil spill, not a matter of national security. But Powers said it's important. She said BP doesn't want anyone wandering onto the property, and it doesn't want its supervisors interrupted. And as for workers talking, "They don't have the big picture," she said.

It may not be handling national security but the operations are equipment-intensive. A DMR worker said, "It's like a war zone over there," talking about in Pascagoula , where two BP staging sites and the Marine Spill Response Corp. are located. Frank Wescovich with DMR said there was so much going on he couldn't find a place to park. He walked a mile to get to one site amid all the people, boats, overhead helicopters and trucks.
A NOAA spokesman called BP's network of staging areas in this state "significant operations."

One local contractor told reporters it was serving workers 70,000 meals a week. Employees Tuesday confirmed the company has had to ramp up operations and rent extra space to handle the load. Yet BP's Powers said many of the workers are on hold, waiting to be called up.

Those who coast residents see walking the beaches in groups of five to 15 are responding to calls of something washed up or are picking up debris of some type. Although some at the Joint Incident Command in Mobile say Mississippi preparedness is moving into a new phase, Powers said Tuesday, "There's a lot of waiting going on.
"We've had people in Mississippi for several weeks," she said. "We have a lot of people ready to work if something were to happen on our shores."

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