GALVESTON — As the cleanup operation for the Galveston Bay oil spill entered its 10th day Monday, officials began to talk about how they will begin to scale back the response that has now involved more than 2,200 people.
Officials said Monday they were beginning to develop standards on how clean is clean enough for crews to be able to stand down along the 100 or so miles of Texas shoreline that has been effected by the oil spill.
“The unified command works with the trustees for all the areas to develop a plan to give us an endpoint of what clean is for that area,” said U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer Andy Kendrick, a spokesman for the Unified Command Center responding to the spill.
“Each area is going to be different,” Kendrick said. “They haven’t even come to a definition (of what’s clean) for all of the places.”
As an example, Kendrick said one point of consideration on what is clean would be whether an oily sheen was still present on the surface of the water. In other places, the number of tar balls being washed up may be considered in determining the area’s status.
No area had been officially defined as of Monday afternoon, Kendrick said. Such proclamations will likely come in stages, with areas that have received small amounts of oil cleared first and more heavily effected areas remaining on the active cleanup list.
Before being declared clean, teams of responders will enter a “monitor and maintain” mode, during which cleanup crews will pull back and observe areas for signs of new pollution.
“Each area is going to be kind of its own thing,” Kendrick said. “We’re not going to just do a whole bunch of them at once.”
Since the spill began March 22, the highest-level responders have been working alternating 12-hour shifts to organize response efforts. The clear weather this weekend allowed crews to make significant progress, Kendrick said — to the point that some of the command staff were allowed time off to rest.
Other resources are still being sent from Galveston to points south where crews are facing more complicated logistical challenges because of the remoteness of Matagorda Island and the continued movement of the oil still drifting in the Gulf of Mexico. On Monday, oil was reported on Mustang Island and North Padre Island, almost 200 miles from where the spill originated.
For the Galveston area response, however, two notable points of progress appear to be approaching.
Oiled birds being rehabilitated in Baytown could be released back into the wild soon, though no date has been determined.
Charlie Kelly, the city of Galveston’s emergency management coordinator, said he hoped Boddeker Road and Seawolf Park on Pelican Island would be reopened to traffic by the end of the week, but he was hesitant to guarantee that would happen. Those areas are two of the spots most heavily oiled by the spill and have many heavy work vehicles being used in the cleanup.
“Those are priorities right now, but there’s also priorities to make sure the beaches are clean,” Kelly said. “I wish I could give you a date, but I really can’t say that.”
Though the visible response may soon be completed, the Texas General Land Office will continue to have a response team staged in Galveston for the weeks and months to come, Kelly said. That team will respond to any reports of oil that occur during the summer, down to the smallest tar ball. Any samples collected will be tested to determine their origin.
“There’s going to be ongoing cleanup for several weeks,” Kelly said. “They don’t just go away.”