Excellent article on the Gulf Oil Spill: Living in Alabama, with the oil spill: Ryan Dezember

Submitted by Norm Roulet on Sun, 07/18/2010 - 13:37.

I was moved today by coverage in the Cleveland Plain Dealer of the Gulf Oil Spill - Living in Alabama, with the oil spill: Ryan Dezember - props for this personal and eye opening guest editorial today - from the PD: Dezember is a reporter for the Mobile Press-Register in Alabama. He is a graduate of Kent State University, and a Bay Village native. Some key observations:

That morning, I caught my first whiff of the pungent odor outside my house some five miles north of the beach. So stifling was the acrid smell that before making the connection to the spill, I figured that someone in my neighborhood was getting a new roof.

Such is the prognosis that federal wildlife officials have decided that there is virtually no chance any of the 50,000 or so sea turtle hatchlings that emerge from the northern Gulf's beaches each summer would survive in their now-toxic natal waters.

The consequences of losing the entire $1.5 billion summer tourism season will be far-reaching. Right now is the season's peak, and the glassy towers that line the beach are emptier than they were in the dead of winter.

Early in the morning of June 23, the spill's pall claimed its first local casualty. William Allen "Rookie" Kruse, a 55-year-old fisherman, sent his crew on an errand at a Gulf Shores marina and -- while they were still within earshot -- put a pistol to his head and fired.

Living in Alabama, with the oil spill: Ryan Dezember

Published: Sunday, July 18, 2010, 4:37 AM

By Ryan Dezember

GULF SHORES, Ala. -- The day that the oil arrived was a still and sunny Friday.

For some 45 days, the residents of coastal Alabama had waited, occasionally convincing themselves that perhaps the oil from BP PLC's spewing well 70 miles to the south might never spoil the state's emerald surf and white sand beaches.

But on June 4, the same winds and currents that bring broiling heat, 90-degree surf and tropical storms to the northern Gulf Coast each summer carried globs of chocolate brown goo to the beaches where, for the past eight summers, I've been a reporter for the Mobile Press-Register.

The first tourists to encounter the oil treated it as a curiosity, poking at it with sticks, scooping it into plastic bottles and snapping photos as it glommed onto the sand.

That morning, I caught my first whiff of the pungent odor outside my house some five miles north of the beach. So stifling was the acrid smell that before making the connection to the spill, I figured that someone in my neighborhood was getting a new roof.

Some days, oil is everywhere. On others, there's hardly a trace. But there are reminders every day: Bottles of Dawn soap at boardwalk showers, Tyvek-clad cleanup workers, Coast Guard helicopters whipping across the sky, skimmers speckling the horizon.

Twice a day, employees of the resort cities of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach fly along the coast charting the oil's incursion as if it were some invading armada.

On July 1, they reported that all 32 miles of beaches between Mobile Bay and the Florida Panhandle had been fouled. Sheen of some sort was solid as far south as the airborne spotters could see, broken only by roof-size rafts of thicker oil. Orange streaks had penetrated the pristine backbays where bottle-nosed dolphins are as common as deer in the Cleveland Metroparks.

Following a couple of relatively oil-free days, they relayed the approach of a splotchy constellation that measured 50 yards by 15 miles.

Such is the prognosis that federal wildlife officials have decided that there is virtually no chance any of the 50,000 or so sea turtle hatchlings that emerge from the northern Gulf's beaches each summer would survive in their now-toxic natal waters. The government has launched an untested and previously unthinkable initiative to dig up the delicate eggs and truck them by FedEx to Florida's Atlantic coast to hatch.

Alabama's beaches have suffered repeated trauma since 2004's Hurricane Ivan. Hurricane Katrina struck the next summer. Insurance rates rose exponentially. Then the real estate bubble burst and pinched an economy that had become hooked on its spoils.

Those events have precedent, though. The latest calamity doesn't. Nor does it have an end in sight.

The consequences of losing the entire $1.5 billion summer tourism season will be far-reaching. Right now is the season's peak, and the glassy towers that line the beach are emptier than they were in the dead of winter.

The plight of fishing guides, hotel owners and bartenders is obvious. But up the tax chain are schoolteachers and police officers who will also depend on the mercy and cash reserves of an oil company that has pledged to make everyone whole, but, in many instances, has let loss-of-income claims sit unsettled for two months.

If all this sounds exasperating, it is. Tony Kennon, the mayor of Orange Beach, said recently that no day passes without a constituent breaking down in his office. Beyond fretting about finances, many locals are worried about their way of life becoming extinct.

Early in the morning of June 23, the spill's pall claimed its first local casualty. William Allen "Rookie" Kruse, a 55-year-old fisherman, sent his crew on an errand at a Gulf Shores marina and -- while they were still within earshot -- put a pistol to his head and fired.

With fishing prohibited throughout much of the Gulf, Kruse had enrolled his two boats in a BP program aimed at employing out-of-work anglers in the cleanup effort. Kruse wasn't happy about that and seemed unusually stressed, his friends said. But, they said, his despondency wasn't glaring.

After all, one of Kruse's former deckhands said, who among his crowd hadn't flashed a hint of desperation?