Local man helps clean up coast

Published 4:40 pm Thursday, June 24, 2010

For about five weeks, Willie Locke did his part in helping to save the coastline from being covered in oil.

Locke, a member of the HHT1-131KO National Guard Unit, said he and about 150 other members of the unit worked along a 10-mile stretch of the coast on Dauphin Island.

“We were sent there the first of May to install HESCO Barriers,” Locke said. “We covered about 10 miles of coastline while we were there.”

The barriers, manufactured by Hercules Engineering Solutions Consortium, are stationary items rather than floating boom that has become visible along other areas of the coast.

Locke said the view of the beach changed during the weeks he and the other members of his unit were on the job at Dauphin Island.

“When we got there the first of May there wasn’t any oil on the beach,” Locke said. “During the last couple of weeks we were there we began to see some oil wash up onto the beach.”

Locke said the oil that did find it’s way to the shore during his stint there was minimal.

“We didn’t see a lot of the oil,” Locke said. “What we did see looked like melted chocolate. It was dark and gooey looking.”

Locke said there were many others working along the coastline to help prevent damages caused by the oil slick.

“There were a lot of outside agencies working at the same time we were there,” Locke said. “People with FEMA, ADEM, the Coast Guard and others were also working.”

Along with several agencies and other National Guardsmen on the scene, Locke said reporters were plentiful along the coast.

“We had a lot of reporters around the area we were working,” Locke said. “We saw reporters from the Discovery Channel, CNN and other places. There were reporters from Japan there doing interviews concerning the problem.”

Although reporters and government agency officials filled the beaches, Locke said the tourists had decided to stay away.

“There were a lot of people around at the coast but they were all officials and workers,” Locke said. “When we would look around at Orange Beach, Ft. Morgan and Gulf Shores it was almost like a ghost town. There were hardly any other people around.”

The oil slick that continues to threaten sea life and other species of animals and birds found along the coastline has already devastated the fishing industry, Locke said.

“We saw a couple of fish that had oil on them and the seashells we saw were covered pretty bad,” Locke said. “All of this has really hurt the fishing industry and the fishermen just can’t make a living. It’s already rough and will probably get much worse.”

Although a definite date for Locke’s return to the coast hasn’t been announced, he said it’s pretty certain he will have to go back to do more work with the National Guard units.

“There is a real good chance that guardsmen will be going back down to work,” Locke said. “It’s just according to how much oil comes in and how bad it washes up onto shore.”

Locke spends his time away from National Guard duty as a State Trooper for the Alabama Department of Public Safety’s Highway Patrol Division. He is a resident of Evergreen with ties to the Brewton area through work and family.