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Galveston oil washes up on Matagorda Island (w/videos)

By Sara Sneath
March 27, 2014 at 8:01 p.m.
Updated March 27, 2014 at 10:28 p.m.

PHOTO ABOVE: Crews loaded with booms make their way down the Intracoastal Canal in Port O'Connor turning into Matagorda Bay, where they will disperse the booms in a preventative measure to protect birds and sea life  from an oil spill that originated in  the Houston Ship Channel.

PORT O'CONNOR - The sleepy fishing village of Port O'Connor became abuzz Thursday, evolving into a multiagency oil-response headquarters.

Throughout the day, response crews dropped more booms into the Gulf of Mexico designed to protect environmentally sensitive Matagorda Island and its endangered species.

Aerial observations in the morning detected patchy, washed-up oil globs spread over a 12-mile stretch of the Gulf-side beach of the island, south of the state park.

"I know a lot of people in town are a little upset because they feel like they should tell us what's going on," said Mary Jo Walker, the Port O'Connor Chamber of Commerce president.

Living in a small town, typically, everybody has a tap on what's going on, she said. Walker said she was worried about the impact the oil could have on the area's fishing and tourism.

"It is 100 percent my livelihood," she said.

Walker and her husband own shrimping boats and an RV park in Port O'Connor.

Though no public briefings are scheduled, stakeholders are being informed, said Capt. Randal Ogrydziak, deputy sector commander for the U.S. Coast Guard Sector Corpus Christi.

Ogrydziak identified stakeholders as elected officials and shrimping and oyster fleet associations. "We're talking to them about what's going on," he said.

The oil drifted southwest from Galveston Bay, where a ship collided with an oil-bearing barge Saturday, spilling about 168,000 gallons of oil.

On Wednesday, a 15-mile patch of oil was seen offshore near the Matagorda pass. Heavy sea began breaking up the patch during the night. Six- to 8-foot waves churned the oil, breaking it up into globs ranging from the size of a basketball court to a fist.

"So that's all rolling in the surf zone and coming up on the beach and stranding, which is good. Let's keep it in one place," Ogrydziak said.

While the heavy oil is predicted to stay put - where responders will begin a cleanup - the oil sheen may move farther south, he said.

Endangered whooping cranes on Matagorda Island are on the bay side, opposite from where the oil is washing up, Ogrydziak said.

"They're not being impacted by the oil at all," he said.

Kemp's ridley sea turtles, also an endangered species, are expected to reach the island next month.

"By May, I'm very hopeful we'll be able to get the oil off the beach, and the turtles can come in and do what the turtles have to do," Ogrydziak said.

There were no reports of oiled or dead wildlife Thursday, said Mike Cox, a Texas Parks and Wildlife spokesman.

The oil on the island will be removed manually with rakes and shovels. Responders will scrape the polluted sand and put it in sacks while attempting not to remove too much sand, Ogrydziak said. No dispersants have been used at this time.

There are no current fishing restrictions, although the area where the Matagorda Ship Channel crosses the Intracoastal Waterway closed to vessels at 10 p.m. Wednesday, allowing one ship in and one out Thursday.

An investigation into the Houston Ship Channel wreck that led to the spill is ongoing, but the oil came from a Kirby barge, making it the responsible party, a Matagorda Bay joint information center spokesman said.

"Kirby is taking an aggressive approach to rectifying what has happened. And we are committed to staying until the very end - until it is returned to how it was previously," said Todd Behlke, a Kirby Inland Marine spokesman.



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