Tuesday, September 02, 2014




Oil response team cleans up concerns (w/video)

By Sara Sneath
April 1, 2014 at 4:01 a.m.

Bird Island can be seen just beyond the northern section of Matagorda Island that was threatened by an oil slick coming from the Houston Ship Channel oil spill last week. Booms that were in place around Bird Island as a preventative measure have been removed as the cleanup effort slowly moves south toward Corpus Christi.

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Flyover of Matagorda Island

Flyover of South Matagorda Island on Tuesday, April 1.

What's next

The Unified Command Center will have a public information session at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Port O'Connor Elementary School.

PORT O'CONNOR - The oil spill response post in Port O'Connor changed its procedures for communicating with the local community Tuesday after Calhoun County fishermen met with an attorney.

Oil from a shipwreck in the Houston Ship Channel last week traveled more than 200 miles south, washing ashore along 12 miles of South Matagorda Island.

In a flyover on Tuesday, the oil appeared to be covered by sand, visible only in splotches and oiled tree limbs and seaweed.

Until Tuesday, no local elected officials had seen the response effort firsthand, and Calhoun fishermen's questions were going unanswered. But the communication breakdown was addressed Tuesday, resulting in efforts to put community member's minds at ease.

From now on, if a community member comes to the Matagorda command post at the Port O'Connor Community Center, he or she will meet with someone who can talk to them and attempt to answer their questions about the oil response effort.

The policy change comes after more than 60 fishermen, shrimpers, oyster harvesters and bait-stand owners met with a Port Lavaca attorney Sunday because their questions about the local effects of the Galveston Bay oil spill went unanswered.

"It was kind of an oversight," Calhoun County Precinct 4 Commissioner Kenneth Finster said.

Finster said when he heard about the fishermen's concerns Tuesday morning, he drove to the command center to find a way to improve communication between the oil response effort and the community.

In addition to the new policy, a public meeting about the oil on South Matagorda Island will be in Port O'Connor on Thursday, and an open letter to the local fishing community was drafted.

"We realize it is important for lines of communication between the Unified Command and the residents and business owners of Calhoun County to be open and clear, and we will strive to improve our communication and outreach in that regard," the letter stated.

The command made 250 copies of the letter and handed them out to mariners at local docks and marinas, Coast Guard Lt. Tyrone Conner said.

Finster and the Port O'Connor Chamber of Commerce president also received a copy of the letter.

"I'm relieved that they are going to have a public meeting. Our hope is that we will get answers to a lot of questions," said Jane Lane, the attorney that county fishermen met with Sunday.

Lane was contacted by Finster first thing Tuesday morning, she said. He expressed his concern about the lack of communication to the community, she said.

Finster and a Calhoun County Emergency Management employee were flown over the site of the oil cleanup on south Matagorda Island on Tuesday.

"It was impressive to see the amount of manpower available. I was glad to see that people are taking it serious," Finster said.

High tides limited the workday for the cleanup crew on South Matagorda Island on Tuesday as the crew continued its attempt to manually remove tar balls and oiled debris from a 12-mile stretch of beach, Conner said. The effort has also been slowed by the logistics involved in getting the crew to the site of the oil.

It's a 30-minute boat ride to the island and an hour's drive by all-terrain vehicle across the island to the site each way. Three aircraft, 29 boats, 61 ATVs and 279 people were involved in the cleanup.

As of Monday, about 1 mile of shoreline had been cleaned on the island, and 610 bags of oiled sand and debris were collected, Conner said.

Information about Tuesday's cleaning efforts will not be available until Wednesday morning, he said.

One oiled loon is being cared for by Wildlife Center of Texas personnel at a wildlife rehabilitation center in Port O'Connor, he said. Forty dead animals have been found on Matagorda and Mustang islands, including 15 birds and one freshwater turtle. Necropsies will determine whether oil is to blame for the deaths of these animals.

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