Every Wednesday that I’m home I trundle a big green garbage bin to the end of my long asphalt drive; by the end of the day I find it in a slightly different position on the dusty country road, empty. Like 20 million other U.S. residents, a very efficient truck from one of the three biggest carters in the country — Waste Management — has carted my refuse away. And I hate having to admit, but I have no idea where they take it.
I’m pondering this today because last week I wondered where all the waste being accumulated from the Gulf gusher – all those sturdy plastic bags we see lining the beaches filled with tar balls and soiled sand, those absorbent “pompoms” soaked with heavy crude used in valiant efforts to mop up the wetlands, all that sludge, rags and oily booms – is taken. At the time, reports assured me that it was all heading for appropriately lined landfills specifically built to keep such hazardous waste from leaking and leaching back into the soil and water, and eventually to the sea.
But now I read that Waste Management-owned landfills – in places like Perdido, Florida, Harrison County, Mississippi and Mobile County, Alabama – are increasingly becoming home to unexpected tons of such oily refuse. And I’m wondering just how prepared they are for these unexpected additions.
Waste Management reports that in two states – Alabama and Mississippi – it tracks all the oil-soaked garbage collected from the spill areas and currently has 535 containers being used, on 65 trucks. Liquid waste from those states and Florida is all taken to Theodore, Alabama, where the oil and water are separated.
In Escambia, Florida, 15 truckloads of oil related waste is being dumped by WM at Springhill Landfill, thanks to a contract with BP. (For the rest of my dispatch, go to takepart.com.)
Just like the neighborhood swimming pool and major league baseball the Gulf of Mexico’s annual hurricane season has opening (June 1) and closing (November 30) dates. Predictions for the season just begun are that it will be “busy” to “active.”
Experts from NOAA and Colorado State University are anticipating 14 to 23 tropical storms in the Gulf of Mexico, including five to ten hurricanes, two or three of them “major” (qualified by sustained winds of 111 mph). Typically there’s a one in three chance that one of the major’s will hit land; this year’s stats put it somewhere between 50 to 75 percent.
In a normal year those numbers would be worrying; this season is complicated by the 40 million gallons of loosed oil – 40 million gallons and still gushing!! – afloat on the Gulf’s surface, lying just below it or spreading in massive plumes down to 500 feet below sea level. The leak sits dead center in the superhighway that in past years has delivered hurricanes like Camille and Katrina deep inland.
The higher numbers are due to warmer-than-usual tropical Atlantic Ocean surface temperatures, which may be complicated by the fact that all that oil in the water is making surface temps even warmer.
“In this ‘untreaded water’ it’s tough to theorize about what would happen,” Joe Bastardi, chief long-range hurricane forecaster with AccuWeather.com told the AP.
Locals are understandably panicked by the thought of all those potential storm waters arriving laden with heavy crude. Hurricane winds would push the oil deeper into estuaries, wetlands and freshwater marshes, its waterspouts sucking up oily water and spreading it inland. Imagine a Katrina-like flood repeating in New Orleans, with its heavy surge waters filled with oil. The worst case? A long-lasting (4-5 day) storm out of the southeast, which could drive the storm surge as much as twenty miles inland.
For the rest of my report on the upcoming hurricane season, go to takepart.com.
We first went to Southern Louisiana with cameras one year ago; we’ve been back a couple times since and are just wrapping up the editing of a beautiful, provocative film – “SoLa, Louisiana Water Stories” – about man’s relationship with water in a part of the world where everywhere you look you’re surrounded by bayou, swamp or wetlands, the Mississippi River or Gulf of Mexico.
The region is home to the most unique and vital culture in America and every Cajun from Grand Isle to Breaux Bridge, has a story – or two, three or more – about … water.
Theirs are stories with a lot of passion and heart but also a fair amount of dismay. SoLa’s waterways are home to some serious environmental problems, including oil and gas spills, petrochemical waste that has filtered into the air and water, fertilizer run-off from its neighbors and coastal erosion that is disappearing twenty-five square miles of Southern Louisiana each year.
Tomorrow morning (August 27) between 8 and 9 a.m. EST ABC’s “Good Morning America” and Sam Champion are excerpting a piece from our film, taking their own look at one of the most serious and mysterious of SoLa’s problems, a growing Dead Zone in the Gulf of Mexico.
For the past ten months we’ve spent a bit of time prowling the bayous, creeks, swamps, rivers and the gulf waters of Southern Louisiana, working on a film about the relationship between man and water there … a rich subject in a place where any glance over your shoulder and you’re about to fall into the drink. Despite some serious water issues – a booming dead zone caused by fertilizer run-off primarily from the upper Midwest, a land and populace far too accustomed to oil spills and the leave-behind-mess of the $62 billion a year oil and gas industry that dominates the region, Cyprus trees being cut for garden mulch and sold at local box stores, a variety of erosion and pollution issues putting America’s biggest fishery at great risk – the people we’ve met and worked with and filmed couldn’t have been a more vital, full-of-life crowd.
In recent weeks one place we filmed, a beautiful swamp near Baton Rouge called Alligator Bayou used for the past decade as an educational playground for kids from all over the region, has gone through major alterations. Actually, the gates that have made it swampland for the past fifty years have been opened, the swamp largely drained. It’s yet another great modern-day battle between developers (who want access to the land to use as “mitigation” banks – basically a hedge bought by builders who plan to impact other wetlands and will the newly-drained swamp as “credit”) and environmentalists.
Like most developer-enviro fights this has a long and complicated history. Read through Amy Wold’s story in the Baton Rouge Advocate and see if you can get to the bottom of the mess. All I know, from this distance, is that Frank Bonifay and Jim Ragland – who bought the place a decade ago and opened it as a nature center – could have gotten rich over the years by selling off the land. Instead, as they showed us last August when Frank motored us slowly around the bayou watching cranes and alligators, it was clear they truly loved the place for its beauty and uniqueness. That the swamp is now surrounded by encroaching McMansions, whose owners and future-builders want more land to build on and less swamp, appears to have been its death-knell.
That said, Frank is a feisty guy. He may very well figure out a way to close the big gates that have kept the swamp wet these past fifty years and recreate his own personal dreamscape.