BP cleanup crews are blending in with the scenery

A pair of BP cleanup workers searching for tar balls with nets at Gulf Shores. They're no longer wearing their bright vests, gloves or heavy boots.

Grant Brown, recreation director for Gulf Shores (wearing a Gulf Shores fleece sweatshirt).

Justin Saia, head of media relations for BP (wearing a blazer).

Steve Chiotakis: With Spring Break in full force, thousands of tourists are making their way to the beaches of the once oil-soaked Gulf Coast. But cleanup workers of the BP oil spill on Alabama's shoreline are being asked to blend in with the tourists a little more.

Gigi Douban reports.

Gigi Douban: Cities along Alabama's Gulf Coast are fighting to make a comeback. But truth be told, cleanup crews in hazmat suits don't exactly say 'Welcome to paradise.' So officials with the City of Gulf Shores had a request for BP: Can you maybe have the cleanup crews stick out a little less?

Grant Brown is director of recreation and cultural affairs for Gulf Shores.

Grant Brown: I guess the biggest thing we were hoping and still are wanting to have happen is that the response people will blend in with our tourists and with our locals.

After pressure from cities along the coast, BP earlier this month told its cleanup crews: go ahead, take it off. Well, some of it anyway.

Justin Saia: Workers will no longer be required to wear protective yellow boots or nitral gloves. They also will not be wearing reflective vests.

That's Justin Saia, BP's director of media relations. He says instead of having armies of workers on the beaches, BP has launched strike teams. These are crews stationed just a few miles from the beaches.

Saia: So when the national response center calls out and says, we've had an occurrence of tar balls washing up in the Fort Morgan area, teams will be deployed locally to go out and deal with that.

They get in, they clean up, and they're out. And for the workers patrolling the beach with nets, recreation director Grant Brown says it's great they've lost the fluorescent vests and boots. But he'd like to take it a step further.

Brown: In an ideal world, they'd be in a pair of shorts, a pair of tennis shoes, and a T-shirt. People kind of know what they're doing but not really knowing what they're doing, if that makes any sense.

That doesn't make much sense to Kathy Lewis. She's spending a month in Gulf Shores with her husband and brother-in-law.

Kathy Lewis: I think I would rather see them and know that they were doing something than think, 'Oh man, look at, there's a tar ball. Where's the guy gonna come to pick it up?'

And, she says, she'd rather know for sure that the people picking up those tar balls are trained workers, and not tourists like her.

In Gulf Shores, Ala., I'm Gigi Douban for Marketplace.

Grant Brown, recreation director for Gulf Shores (wearing a Gulf Shores fleece sweatshirt).

Justin Saia, head of media relations for BP (wearing a blazer).


I agree to American Public Media's Terms and Conditions.
With Generous Support From...

Sustainability Coverage

  • The Kendeda Fund
  • Wealth & Poverty Coverage

  • The Ford Foundation