Friday, April 15, 2011

Auburn University beach study could be ready by end of month in Baldwin County |

Auburn University beach study could be ready by end of month in Baldwin County | "Auburn University beach study could be ready by end of month in Baldwin County"

ORANGE BEACH, Alabama -- An Auburn University report on the cleanliness of the city’s beaches could be ready by the end of the month.

Joel Hayworth, an engineering professor with the university, told the City Council on Tuesday that he would start the first of six beach sample collections this week.

Hayworth is working with fellow engineering professor Prabhakar Clement on scientifically proving whether the beaches were thoroughly cleaned after the BP oil spill.

They were hired by the city in February for about $100,000 to analyze the sand after the oil giant spent months on a deep-clean process, removing tar buried as deep as 3 feet below the surface.

In Orange Beach, Mayor Tony Kennon sent crews to the sand with augers to determine whether anything was left behind. Kennon has said that little tar was located, but workers marked spots where it was found.

The city approved the Auburn study after Hayworth suggested a more scientific approach.

The professors had initially hoped to reveal some preliminary findings by the anniversary of the April 20 Deepwater Horizon explosion, but Hayworth said they had run into delays.

They spent the past two months on preparation work and getting the OK to collect samples from Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge, an area impacted by the oil spill where BP was asked not to perform a deep beach clean in order to protect sensitive habitat.

Hayworth said the Bon Secour samples would be collected to compare differences in the sand.

The professors plan to continue analyzing their data well after they submit their report to the city, by publishing findings in scientific journals and seeking grants to continue studying the ecosystem of the beaches.

“We anticipate this is going to be a long, drawn-out thing into the future,” Hayworth said.

“All of this is about trying to make sure that our friends don’t leave town without really addressing this all the way.”

The two also completed a review of dispersant analysis collected by the city, but Hayworth said he was not prepared to release the findings because their report was not final. He expected that to be released at the end of this month, as well.

The city spent months collecting air, water and sediment samples to test for oil and dispersants, reaching out to scientists at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab, along with universities around the state, to help analyze what was found.

Officials have said that areas such as Cotton Bayou are free of dispersant.

In other business Tuesday, the council agreed to spend much of its $4 million in excess revenue from 2010 on The Wharf Conference Center, now known as the Orange Beach Civic Center.

The majority will go toward the $1.6 million purchase, upon which the council agreed last month, with an additional $500,000 of excess revenue spent on capital upgrades and another $300,000 reserved for additional parking at the facility.

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