Fishing community worries about oil spill

PORT O’CONNOR – It was late in the day, and nearly everyone had left Clark’s Shrimp House except Craig Lambright and the rest of the three-man shrimper crew.

Across town, talk of the Galveston oil spill dominated conversations from Josie’s Mexican Food and Cantina to the Speedy Stop up Adams Street near the city limits.

The sleepy fishing town, home to about 1,200 mostly retirement-age residents, anxiously watched as crews poured in from Corpus Christi and Lake Charles, La., setting the stage to clean up as much as 170,000 gallons of oil spilled after a ship collision in the Houston Ship Channel on Saturday.

“If it comes in the bay, we’ve had it,” said Lambright, 50, of Seadrift.

Like his father, Lambright was born to shrimp.

“I was 6 months old and in a shrimp basket on the boat,” he said. “Something like this can mess our livelihood up pretty good.”

When the bays are closed, he has taken odd jobs and worked at the plants in Point Comfort when he had to.

“We depend on the bay,” he said. “Maybe the good Lord won’t let it come this way, and we’ll get lucky.”

U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Tyrone Conner said the majority of the cleanup effort is south of Matagorda Island, where oil, churned and broken up by waves, washed ashore in globs, some measuring 6 meters by 6 meters.

A thick layer of fog blanketing the shore prevented cleanup workers from their tasks Friday morning and delayed a flight over the island to check for oil drifts, Conner said.

Because oil had not gone into Matagorda Bay, Bird Island or the areas along Pass Cavallo, environmentally fragile areas including sanctuaries where birds nest are not threatened, he said.

By Friday afternoon, crews laid out more than 64,000 feet of containment boom and 80,000 feet of absorbent boom.

“Do we know where all the oil is going to go?” he said. “No, that’s why we’re laying out boom. … It’s like looking for a needle in a haystack out there.”

Two dead ducks were found Friday with oil on them north of the Colorado River. However, there are no reports of animals in the area being affected by the oil, Conner said.

Rock Bridges, 44, of Lake Charles, and Wilbert Sipsey, 35, of Corpus Christi, were among the cleanup crews from Miller Environmental Services deployed to Port O’Connor.

Staged near the community center, the two men stood surrounded by thousands of feet of orange boom and boats ready to take action.

“We haven’t seen any oil, but we’re releasing the boom to contain it and protect the wildlife,” Bridges said. “We all have to work as a team and get it all together.”

Local fishermen are hopeful their livelihoods and the water remain safe.

Capt. Wild Bill Caldwell, 46, of Port O’Connor, said he is fortunate that his fishing spots along the jetty have not been damaged.

“You’re always worried about it, but I saw early deployment of the skimmer booms,” he said. “I was fishing this morning till 11 a.m. So far, so good.”

While the British Petroleum oil spill in Louisiana and hurricane responses in the past did not receive the reaction and preparation they needed, Caldwell said residents and responders may be overreacting about Matagorda Island.

“It’s better to be wary about things like this and take proactive measures to make sure the spill doesn’t spread, but don’t overreact,” he said.

Conner said cleanup crews, paid for by Kirby Inland Marine, will aggressively attack the oil deposited on the Matagorda Island beach, starting with the southern end of the affected area. Kirby owns the barge that spilled the oil in the Houston Ship Channel and has taken full responsibility for the damages.

“We’re going after the heavy stuff first,” he said.

With shallow-bottom barges and tug boats, crews are transporting ATVs and personnel to the island to begin raking and scooping oil.

At the Fishing Center just outside Fishermans Cut, Donna “Mac” McGuire watched as boaters trickled by, filling up with gas and buying bait.

The 48-year-old convenience store manager said she is nervous about her job.

“It’s fixing to be our peak season,” she said.

For her and her family, the town’s fishing and tourism industry keeps them afloat.

“This could seriously impact the town,” she said. “If people can’t fish, they won’t come out. They’ll fish through fog but not if there’s oil in the bay.”


Victoria Advocate

March 29, 2014

Published by Melissa Crowe

I’m Melissa: an adventure-seeking, story-telling, internet-loving journalist. I work in Seattle. You can find my work in the Puget Sound Business Journal where I use data to tell stories about the people, businesses and industries driving Washington state’s economy.

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