First reports of oil in Lake Pontchartrain

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by Doug Mouton / Eyewitness News

wwltv.com

Posted on July 5, 2010 at 2:15 PM

Updated Monday, Jul 5 at 6:38 PM

SLIDELL, La. -- For the first time since the BP oil spill began, oil reached Lake Pontchartrain Monday in the form of tiny tarballs.

The tarballs floated to the shore in the Treasure Isle subdivision near Slidell.

"The weather is not cooperating," St. Tammany Parish President Kevin Davis said. "You have to pull all those people in for safety reasons and you can't fight it. So then, when we pull in, this is what happens. Last night, it came through, wasn't spotted by air. It goes underwater, then it comes back up."

Monday morning, workers in Tyvek environmental suits, contracted by BP, began scooping up tiny pieces of emulsified oil.

"We collected this morning, and we're collecting this afternoon, and it's very likely it's going to be going on into the evening as well," said Third Class Marine Science Technician Kyrion Gray of the United States Coast Guard.

While workers scooped oil with minnow nets, other crews worked at the barge line blocking a channel in the Rigolets. Surveillance boats searched for oil, then skimmers picked up the oil. That method was used to pick up larger collections of oil blocked by the barges.

"We are using these guys to collect the smaller patches," Gray said, "and they're using those little fish nets, and it's actually very, very easy to pick up the tar balls because they kind of clump together. It's working very, very efficiently so far."

15-year-old Jared Bullock first spotted the oil while fishing near his family's home at the end of Treasure Isle Road South.

"It was about nine o'clock this morning," Bullock said, "and tarball started rolling up."

"Sometime during the night," St. Tammany Parish President Kevin Davis added, "it came through the Rigolets in different spots. We contained some at the barges, they're out there working it, skimming it, and some of it got here. This is the first sighting at Treasure Isle."

In the water, the tiny tar balls look like wood chips.

"The modeling indicates this oil, most likely, was moving toward Alabama and Florida," Dr. John Lopez said. Lopez is the director of coastal sustainability for the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation.

"Then it was this east wind we've had the last few days that sort of pushed it back toward the Lake."

Lopez actually pulled a larger tarball out the Rigolets Sunday, roughly three to four miles from the opening into Lake Pontchartrain.

Much of what he saw made it's way into the Lake on Monday.

"It's certainly not something that represents a catastrophic oiling or threat," Dr. Lopez added, "but it is maybe the leading edge of maybe something larger that could be coming."

Coast Guard flights Monday morning did spot more oil sheen near Half Moon, according to Kevin Davis. Half Moon is roughly eight miles from Lake Pontchartrain.

 

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