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Thursday, Oct 19, 2017
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Tar balls rolling in

PENSACOLA BEACH - Curtis Braswell has seen enough. Born and raised in Pensacola, he loves fishing in the blue-green waters of the Gulf of Mexico. He adores watching his nephew, Joshua Webber, splash in the surf as he tries to ride the incoming waves on an air mattress. One thing he is not a fan of, however, is the steady stream of tar balls that continues to taint the once-pristine shoreline of the place he calls home. The federal government would have people believe that almost all of the oil from the Deepwater Horizon blowout is gone, he says. So would BP.
But 47-year-old Braswell knows better. "Look at this," he says, pointing to tiny tar balls that dot the white sand. "This beach ain't clean. It's just aggravating. "Where are our elected officials?" he asks. "They think it's all fine and dandy." Braswell sees people who walk along the beach end up with black and brown splotches of oil on their feet. He sees once-beautiful olive shells caked in black gunk. The one thing he does not see enough of? Cleanup workers. He says he sometimes will see a couple of workers, but they're doing more standing and watching — or talking on the phone — than picking up tar balls. And he says they are particularly scarce on weekends, almost as though they don't want the public to see them. Craig Savage, a spokesman for BP, says cleanup crew numbers vary based on location and the amount of product being collected. Whenever possible, he says, the workers give way to those who are trying to enjoy the beach — whether it's on a weekday or a weekend. Bob West, public safety director for the Santa Rosa Island Authority, which includes Pensacola Beach, says he thinks crews are doing a good job of picking up the tar balls that do wash up. "If we had 10,000 people out there, they could clean it all up in 30 minutes," West says. "But we don't. They are doing a decent job of getting it up. It's not ideal." Teams of three or four workers comb the 8.3-mile stretch of Pensacola Beach every day, the public safety director says. They gather about 60 to 70 pounds of oil-and-sand waste each day, he says. West says he doesn't see the oil being the problem today that others say it is. "When they walk down our beaches on most days, they would be unaware there are tar balls out there," he says. Braswell joked that he is going to start picking up tar balls himself. And then he will leave them on the doorsteps of elected officials. "It ain't that hard to see," he says, motioning with his hand. "There it is." Thomas Melvin, who had been fishing with Braswell, wants his old beach back. "I think they need to be out here working on it, taking care of the problem," he says. "I haven't seen more than one or two people in the last two months. "I love coming out here," Melvin adds. "But this is devastating."

rshaw@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7999
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