Walton County Initiates Local Task Force to Address Oil Spill Health Concerns

The Associated Press
Oil cleanup workers hired by BP make an effort to clean the shore in Orange Beach, Ala., on Saturday. Large amounts of the oil battered the Alabama coast, leaving deposits of the slick mess some 4-inches thick on the beach in some parts.
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Another wave of tarballs washed up this afternoon along 14 miles of the beaches in South Walton.

As you can imagine, it was the hot topic at tonight's county commission meeting, where commissioners are demanding BP and state officials respond faster to the crisis.
The county’s newly-formed local task force will be addressing the growing health and safety concerns of residents and visitors.

Are the beaches safe?

Walton county residents stepped up to the podium at Tuesday night's county commission meeting looking for an answer.
Local businessman Ed Berry is urging commissioners to make sure the appropriate parties are being held accountable.
"The children were in the water swimming. They were coming out of the water with tarballs on their face; they were wiping their face and having tar in their eyes and on their mouth."

That horrifying image has local officials working to 'up the ante'.
A request was made to hold weekly town hall meetings, obtain weekly reports on how BP is managing cleanup expenditures, and to provide an updated list of all the consultants the county is using.

But the big push was for the county to begin conducting independent air and water quality testing.
This stems from the frustration and belief that state agencies are doing little, and the little they are doing is a little too late.

Darryl Boudreau is the Assistant Director of the Department of Environmental Protection’s Northwest District.
He willingly admits the agency hasn’t been the most efficient.
"We're getting better at how to handle this. I know no one wants to hear this but we are using a response structure that is not designed for this, and I think that's what has led to some of this frustration. My goal is to make this process improve, improve, improve to the point where we are all working well and we've got it all figured out. And I hate to say this but we are writing the chapter for Florida."

And the county is asking BP to step up their cleanup efforts and response time.
Sheriff Mike Adkinson says some things have to change.
"As I understand it, they are working twenty minutes and resting forty… that wouldn't work for me, but I’ll tell you that we're gonna find a way to work that out."

County Commissioner Sara Comander agrees.
"I know we have people here that are trained and ready to go on the beach within an hour, or two hours notice, and they're not being called. So however you all solve that problem… I just know it's a problem that needs to be solved."

County officials are hoping to resolve these problems at a public hearing, scheduled for July 13th.
Officials will also discuss how much additional money from the TDC’s reserve fund they'll earmark for the recovery efforts.

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