As thousands of barrels of oil continue to spew into the Gulf of Mexico each day from the BP oil well, a growing number of Mainers are heading south to help deal with the catastrophe.
The reinforcements include Coast Guard personnel, environmental cleanup companies, state officials with technical expertise, wildlife biologists, economic and academic researchers, students and others.
As the massive leak nears the two-month mark, the list continues to grow. And this week, The Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram will join them to tell the story of the environmental and economic disaster through the efforts of Mainers who are pitching in. Reports, which will appear in print and on the Web, will include stories, blog entries, photos and video.
The Mainers at work there are a diverse group.
Two state government employees are lending their technical expertise to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which is providing weather and biological response services to the federal and local governments.
A Maine crew from Clean Harbors, an environmental cleanup company, is helping to remove oil from the beaches on Dauphin Island in Alabama.
One Maine businessman left for the Gulf late last week to demonstrate his company’s oil detection technology to federal oil spill response officials, hoping they will put him to work.
From South Portland, a contingent of Coast Guard personnel are in the field helping to burn off the oil now collecting on the ocean’s surface.
Some Mainers have already been to the Gulf and back.
Michael Herz, an environmental advocate from Damariscotta, toured the region last month with the Gulf Coast Fund. The fund was set up after Hurricane Katrina to give grants to spur economic development and the creation of social services, creating a network for under-served rural Gulf Coast communities.
“It was as if they were developing a response program for the next crisis — and lo and behold, here it is,” he said.
Herz served on an oil-spill commission set up by the governor of Alaska to respond to the Exxon Valdez spill, which dumped 250,000 barrels of oil into Prince William Sound in 1989.
Herz said he went to Louisiana expecting to find an environmental disaster and discovered an economic fiasco, as well. He said he met with residents who complained about the noise from helicopters spraying dispersants. Herz said they felt invaded.
“It is very much like Vietnam and Agent Orange. They are very upset,” Herz said.
He saw many similarities between the Maine and Gulf coasts. Both regions, he said, are totally tied to the water, supporting fishermen and tourism-related businesses.
“Imagine what would happen if the lobster population were to collapse,” Herz said.
Graham Shimmield, president and executive director of Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences in West Boothbay Harbor, met with other scientists earlier this month at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge to assess oil spill research needs.
Shimmield was chairman of an oil emergency response team from 2005 to 2008 for the Sullom Voe, Europe’s largest offshore oil terminal, located in the North Sea off the Shetland coast in Scotland.
Bigelow Laboratory will probably be involved in ongoing research related to the spill, said Tatiana Brailovskaya, the lab’s director of communications. Shimmield will likely give a public talk about the oil spill in the coming weeks, Brailovskaya said.
Curiosity prompted John Wise, a professor of toxicology and molecular epidemiology at the University of Southern Maine, to inspect the oil spill damage during a layover between flights in New Orleans.
Wise and a colleague headed to Grand Isle on the Louisiana coast, walked out on a pier and saw the chunks of oil on the beach.
“The clean-up was a couple of guys holding a shovel and plastic bag. You realize how difficult this will be,” said Wise, who heads the Wise Environmental and Genetic Toxicology Laboratory.
When Wise unpacked his bag at home three days later, his son commented on the stench of oil emanating from the clothes he was wearing that day. He said he had to mail home his shoes, which were covered in oil.
Wise is now working to land a grant so he and his students can spend three or four months testing the Atlantic Ocean for traces of the spill aboard the 90-foot marine research ketch, the Odyssey. He hopes to leave in early July.
The goal of the testing would be to establish a baseline of ocean conditions before oil from the spill reaches the Atlantic Seaboard, which Wise said is inevitable.
Other Mainers are waiting to help. A five-person team at the Department of Environmental Protection signed up to help through an emergency management assistance compact the state has with Florida and Louisiana. The team is prepared to go down with two skimmer boats to clean up oil.
They could be on the road within two days of getting a BP contract to do the work, said Barbara Parker, DEP’s spill response coordinator.
Last week, someone from the spill command post in Louisiana called to find out more about the team and its equipment, but Parker said she has yet to receive the contract.
Staff Writer Beth Quimby can be contacted at 791-6363 or at: