PORTLAND — State officials and other Mainers are eager for a chance to help fight and clean up the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
The Maine Department of Environmental Protection has more than two miles of absorbent boom ready to go. It also wants to send oil-skimming barges and a team of trained responders.

“We’re waiting. We’ve got trained people, we’ve got equipment,” said Barbara Parker, director of response services for the DEP. “I’ve talked to people in other New England states. We’re all waiting. We can’t just go. We have to be asked.”

As oil continues gushing from the sea floor off Louisiana and fouling wildlife and beaches, frustration and concern are spreading far from the Gulf of Mexico.

“There’s a great level of frustration about BP’s response (and) about the role of the federal government,” said Donna Gormley, a spokeswoman for the Maine DEP, which is getting calls daily from residents.

Some callers, like Paul Fournier, owner of Fournier Machines in Mechanic Falls, have ideas for stopping the spill. They are referred to a website where BP is accepting suggestions.

Some callers want to know if the oil will reach Maine’s coast and threaten the fisheries and coastal tourism businesses here. There’s almost no chance that will happen, because of the distance the oil would have to travel and because the Gulf Stream veers offshore before reaching New England, according to the experts.

Some within the DEP are growing frustrated.

At the end of April, the DEP offered to send responders and equipment as soon as the governor of Louisiana or Florida gave the word, Parker said. While BP is coordinating the spill response, such offers are officially made from governor to governor, Parker said.
“We’re stunned, actually,” that the offer hasn’t been accepted yet, she said.

The DEP also prepared 13,900 feet of absorbent boom at the direct request of BP, which has yet to send trucks to pick it up, she said. The boom is in warehouses in Portland and Bangor.

“That’s part of our frustration. I think we’re so concerned (because) we see what’s happening on the news and we know that we have trained people and equipment that can help,” Parker said.

Jon Woodard is part of the DEP’s team of eight to 10 trained oil spill responders who are ready to travel south and recover oil or survey shorelines for damage.

“We’ll assist people wherever they need it,” he said. “It is surprising our equipment hasn’t been called for. They seem to be talking about how they can’t get enough of it.”

A frustrated Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal told reporters Monday that “it is clear that the resources needed to protect our coast are not here. Boom, skimmers, vacuums and jack-up barges are all in short supply. Every day (that) oil sits and waits for cleanup, more of our marsh dies.”

It’s not clear why Jindal hasn’t responded to Maine’s offer, or if he will. His office did not respond in time for this story.

U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree of Maine was disappointed to learn that so much containment boom was in warehouses in Maine.

“Every available resource needs to be put into stopping the spread of oil,” she said in a prepared statement. “If we have two miles of containment boom that can be protecting fragile fishing and wildlife areas, it should be put to use and not sitting in warehouses in Maine.”

Some Maine contractors are already in the Gulf, helping to fight the spill.

The Maine Responder, a Portland-based oil spill response vessel, has been skimming oil from the surface since it arrived with its Maine-based crew earlier this month.

Jack Vallely of Cape Elizabeth is one of 15 Mainers employed by Clean Harbors Environmental Services in South Portland who have been stationed off Mobile, Ala., since the end of April.

The crew has been helping to position containment booms to protect the region’s picturesque shorelines. Winds and currents have kept the oil several miles offshore.

“We have 100,700 feet of boom out. We have to put that out and then we have to maintain it every day,” Vallely said. “We’ve been staying very busy, but we haven’t seen any oil.”

Vallely said he has seen no shortage of responders or equipment to clean the spill.

“The assets that they brought in are overwhelming,” he said. “They have boom from Panama City, Florida, over” to Louisiana.

He said he’s still worried about the size of the spill, and the fact that it isn’t contained yet. “Hopefully their strategy works over the next few days and they can plug that damn thing,” he said.

Fournier, the machine manufacturer from Mechanic Falls, is convinced that he knows how to stop the oil leak, if he can only get BP to listen.

“I’ve called all kinds of people and nothing’s happening,” he said. “Nobody seems to take the bull by the horns and do things.”

His solution is to make a large scissor-like clamp with a powerful hydraulic cylinder and use it to crimp the pipe below the leaks.

“From the looks of it, we’ve got enough room to get our mechanism on there and crimp the pipe,” Fournier said. “A lot of engineers have looked at what we’ve done and they figured it should have been tried first.”

Fournier, a 71-year-old former Coast Guardsman, said he doesn’t want any money for his idea, he just wants a chance to help contain the growing disaster.

“It’s kept me up nights,” he said.
 
Staff Writer John Richardson can be contacted at 791-6324 or at: [email protected]