Oil Spill Investigation Continues As Cleanup Efforts Wrap Up

OCEAN CITY — The multi-agency unified command charged with clearing tons of oily debris and tar balls from southern Delaware to Assateague Island officially stood down this week although the clean-up efforts continue remotely.

Clean-up crews for the unified command, under the U.S. Coast Guard, the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) and the Delaware Department of Natural Resources (DNREC), officially concluded their on-site incident command post at Slaughter Beach in Delaware on Wednesday after two weeks of a rather intense clean-up effort on area beaches. The unified command cleared tons of oily debris and tar balls from beaches from just south of the Indian River Inlet through Cape Henlopen State Park, Bethany, South Bethany, Fenwick Island, Ocean City and Assateague Island State Park.

The clean-up operations will go on, although resources will be shifted to more-affected areas as crews continue the process of sweeping the beaches of oil and tar balls. With Maryland beaches, including Ocean City and Assateague State Park, no longer affected, MDE has stepped back from the unified command.

The Coast Guard and DNREC continue to monitor cleared beaches and make daily evaluations of areas previously impacted, but largely cleared. Clean-up crews will continue to be dispatched to conduct remedial spot checks of certain areas as necessary.

“Our team came together to address an urgent threat to the environment, and though that threat isn’t over, we believe we have structures, procedures and relationships established to shift our cooperative efforts to manage and clean up remotely,” said U.S. Coast Guard Incident Commander Lt. Commander Frederick Pugh. “We will continue to watch areas that have been impacted and will shift resources as necessary.”

After an oil spill, the wind and waves tear the oil in smaller pieces that can be scattered many miles along the coastline. The oil mixes with water, sand and other marine debris in a process known as “weathering.” About 75 tons of oily debris has been removed from mid-Atlantic beaches by clean-up crews during the response.

“We got tons of oily debris and weathered oil off our beaches, but we’re not done yet,” said DNREC Secretary Shawn Garvin. “Our experts continue to survey the coastline, assessing the clean-up operation and, as we move ahead, conducting final evaluations of our beaches to make sure the job is done.”

The cause of the oil spill remains under investigation by the U.S. Coast Guard. If a source of the spill is ultimately identified, the responsible party would be required to reimburse the federal government for the clean-up operation.

Meanwhile, as the clean-up ends on individual beaches over the next several days, the public may still see small spots of oil or isolated bits of debris. The public is asked to continue to report sizeable sightings or oily debris, tar balls or oiled wildlife. In Maryland, sightings can be reported to the MDE at 866-633-4686. In Delaware, sightings can be reported to DNREC at 800-662-8802.

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.