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Coast Guard investigates oil found on Perdido Key beaches after Hurricane Sally

Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class Kenny Tucker, the Gulf Strike Team Response Supervisor, collects an oil sample on Johnson Beach, Fla., Sept. 26, 2020.

PHILLIP MCLEOD/U.S. COAST GUARD

By DENNIS PILLION | Alabama Media Group | Published: September 30, 2020

(Tribune News Service) — The U.S. Coast Guard has taken samples from oil deposits that washed up on the Florida side of Perdido Key after Hurricane Sally to determine where the oil might have come from.

The Mobile Sector of the Coast Guard announced Wednesday it has transitioned its Hurricane Sally operations to an environmental response, focusing on pollution cleanup and salvage operations, including a roughly half-mile stretch of Johnson Beach on Perdido Key, a barrier island that crosses the Alabama-Florida state line.

Sally made landfall in coastal Alabama Sept. 16 as a category 2 hurricane, damaging large numbers of vessels in addition to coastal structures and the area’s power grid.

“It’s important to understand the gravity of this situation,” Cmdr. Kelly Thorkilson, Coast Guard Hurricane Sally incident commander said in a news release. “We have identified more than one hundred vessels actively releasing pollution into the marine environment, and we need to continue to work closely with the community and partner agencies to ensure the cleanup process is conducted safely and effectively.”

In addition to removing damaged vessels, the Coast Guard identified the approximately half-mile stretch of Johnson Beach as an “additional area of environmental pollution impact concerns.”

The beaches saw extensive oil deposits after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, although sometimes oil from other sources can wash onto the beach. The Coast Guard samples should be able to tell whether the oil came from the Deepwater Horizon incident or another source.

Johnson Beach is part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore on the extreme eastern end of Perdido Key, an undeveloped stretch of barrier island south of Naval Air Station Pensacola. Aerial photos show that Sally created three new cuts in the eastern end of the island, which has no roads and is only accessible by boat or after a 3.5-mile walk from the end of Johnson Beach Road.

The Coast Guard says it is working with the National Park Service and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to plan cleanup operations on the impacted section of beaches while it waits for the test results on the oil samples it collected.

The Coast Guard is encouraging vessel owners to hire a salvage company to recover their vessels in order to provide the safest removal method possible for the public and environment. Lost or abandoned vessels should be reported to local law enforcement offices to complete a “Found Property Claim.”

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