Oil cleanup on Matagorda Island comes to a close

Sara  Sneath By Sara Sneath

April 23, 2014 at 11 p.m.
Updated April 23, 2014 at 11:24 p.m.

The last traces of oil that washed up on 24 miles of Matagorda Island last month are being cleared Thursday.

The oil floated south along the Gulf from a shipwreck in the Houston Ship Channel.

The remaining two 25-person teams are expected to conduct light cleanup of a 1-mile stretch of beach before leaving the island Thursday, said John Temperilli, the liaison officer at the Matagorda unified command post. Once the beach is cleaned, it will be placed under a 30-day monitoring period, in which members of the shoreline cleanup assessment team will make weekly patrols for visible signs of oil.

The command left the Port O'Connor Community Center on Tuesday. The remaining 325 personnel are operating off the Martin Energy Terminal, a staging area on the shore just down the road from the community center.

To date, 5,245,080 pounds of oiled sand and debris have been removed from the island, Temperilli said.

Multiple agencies set the standard for what clean means for a particular site, said Paige Doelling, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientific support coordinator.

The cleanup standard for Matagorda Island is the degree to which the oil is no longer capable of harming wildlife, she said. The standard was determined by wildlife because the public does not typically use the beach.

"If you picked up sand on the beach and rubbed it across your fingers, none of that oil would come off," Doelling said about the final results.

The annual Kemp's ridley turtle patrol, which monitors the sea turtles' nests, will begin early next month. The volunteers for the patrol were required to take a 24-hour hazardous material awareness course, Temperilli said.

Monitoring for oil on the beach will continue while the turtle patrol is on the island.

Although a set date has not been given for their departure, personnel and heavy equipment are slowly making their way home.

"We have been downsizing crews for the last three to five days, slowly," Temperilli said Wednesday night. "We're just getting smaller, finishing up."



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