Locals Become Boom-Builders To Keep Oil From Soiling Their Backyard With AM-Tanker Spill, Bjt
HOMER, Alaska (AP) _ The end of the Homer Spit, normally stacked high with crab pots and crowded with fishing boats, has become a bustling yard where floating booms are built to stand guard against a massive oil slick.
What started as a four-man volunteer crew Monday has turned into an operation employing nearly 100 people, turning out four or five miles of log barriers daily in hopes of keeping away the remnants of the nation’s worst oil spill.
″I’ve been working construction crews for 20 years, and this is the hardest-working one I’ve ever seen,″ said Ed Schofield, as he strode through the chaotic log yard Saturday. ″They’re not doing it for the money. They’re working from the heart.″
Hammers clattered and chain saws made a guttural drone as oil from the tanker Exxon Valdez edged closer to Kachemak Bay, a busy fishing port on the southern end of the Kenai Peninsula.
The bay’s icy blue water wraps around glacier-topped mountains cut by gin- clear streams. Its coves and harbors are home to salmon, halibut, clams, crab and an abundance of marine mammals and birds.
The thought of losing it all to the oil blackening the southern Alaska coast prompted Schofield and three friends to begin scrounging materials for makeshift booms.
″We wanted to protect our bay,″ he said. ″Nobody else would do it. If we didn’t do something, we’d be buying our clams from someplace in the Lower 48.″
By Tuesday, 20 volunteers had shown up. Forty were on hand Wednesday when Exxon gave the project its blessing, and the work force swelled steadily through the week with the oil company paying wages starting at $16.69 an hour.
The boom building was halted temporarily Sunday. Strong wind and high seas prevented boats from picking up the completed logs, creating a backup in the yard. Ray Springer, local boss for a subcontractor working for Exxon, said work would resume Monday.
The floating booms are makeshift but effective barriers.
One side of a 30-foot Sitka spruce log is shaved and plastic sheeting is nailed down beneath a two-by-four. Links of chain or cable are inserted as ballast in a sleeve at the bottom of the plastic so the curtain will hang vertically in the water to keep oil from seeping under the logs.
Cable is threated through holes bored in the ends of the logs to tie the sections of boom together.
While a southerly wind threatens to bring the oil slick closer, 15-hour days apparently aren’t tiring the eager crew, all from the Homer area.
″It’s no good to ask them, because they’ll tell you they’re not tired,″ Schofield said. ″The energy here is just unbelievable.″
As his crew grew and the pace quickened, Schofield sought help feeding everyone at the site and his plea on the local public radio station drew a quick response.
″About an hour later, I had stew, hot chili, soup, cases of apples, everything,″ he said. ″The people here see an opportunity to do something (about the spill).″
Material is another story. The logs, from the Anchor Point area of the Kenai Peninsula, probably will last another week. But half-inch chain and cable clamps are dwindling fast and no more are to be found in Alaska, he said.
With Exxon expediting orders, some shipments have started arriving from the Lower 48, Schofield said.
Despite the enthusisasm with which everyone was attacking the job, one worker called the scene ″sad,″ and wondered aloud if it was accomplishing much.
″It looks like a big effort, but a lot of us feel we’re just wasting our time,″ said the worker, who asked to remain unidentified in the face of an oil industry threat to fire any employee who talks to reporters without prior written approval.
″I just kind of hope it’s a worthwhile effort,″ he said.
Schofield said no one told him he couldn’t talk to reporters. ″It wouldn’t do any good if they did,″ he muttered. ″We’re just not going to let anybody stop us.″