Refuge workers aid with cleanup of spill

Published 3:00 am Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Special to the Daily News

The BP oil spill has come to eastern North Carolina, but not in the way one might expect.
Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge officials — Kenny Powell, Melvin Walston and Anthony Davis — have assisted or are assisting local fishermen and government agencies with cleanup efforts in the Gulf of Mexico.
Refuge employees are required to complete training before traveling to sites in the Gulf Coast. The training involves coursework in how to deal with hazardous chemicals and team-building exercises on how to respond effectively to a disaster.
The training also involves learning the incident command structure. This means learning who gives and receives orders in a disaster situation.
Refuge employees focused on catching birds affected by the oil spill. They worked in designated areas, putting the damaged birds into temporary shelters. The birds were then taken to rehabilitation areas for treatment and eventual release back into the wild.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service collected data on where the birds were found in the oil spill and the number off birds caught in each area of the oil spill. Refuge employees attended meetings at night, during which they filed reports on their work. Later, they were given Trimble GPS units to collect data while they were at the oil spill.
BP paid for the work performed by different organizations that worked with the birds and collected data. BP also provided computer servers on which to store the collected data.
Powell works for the Pocosin Lakes refuge as a forestry technician and firefighter. He worked from a barge south of Venice, La., in early June.
Powell described the experience as different from his usual line of work.
“There was some uncertainty involved. I wasn’t really sure what I was getting into. I didn’t know if I would be scooping up oil or something else directly related to the spill. But once I got down there and found out what I was doing, it worked out fine,” he said.
Powell said the oil spill is having a definite effect on the local economy.
“The fishermen working with us were paid by BP. They were shrimping before, but had been out of work for several weeks. So, they could sit and watch or they could help out.”
Currently, Walston and Davis are working near the oil spill. They are required to work for two weeks before they may return home. Walston is an equipment operator at the refuge. Davis is a forestry technician and firefighter.
David Kitts, assistant manager of the refuge, spoke about some of the other work refuge employees have done.
“We are primarily focused on wildfires and hurricanes. We have sent people to locations in Mississippi, Florida and the Northwest. This is the biggest project someone has been sent out on since the Evans Road Fire. We still have some contract work involved with that.”
The Evans Road Fire, a major wildfire, burned for several months in Hyde, Washington and Tyrrell counties during the summer of 2008.