Nutria cleanup on Mississippi beaches after Hurricane Issac will take days

McClatchy NewspapersSeptember 4, 2012 

WAVELAND, Miss. -- Nutria cleanup on the beaches of Hancock County, Miss., was slow going Monday as crews developed the best way to attack the problem of tons of the dead animals washing ashore from south Louisiana.

Sunday's was a test crew to see how best to tackle the problem, and by 8:30 a.m. Sunday, a half-dozen of the crew had quit, state officials said.

It's not work that suits just anyone.

The federal government hired a contractor, U.S. Environmental Services, to handle the situation -- 16,000 to 18,000 nutria and other dead animals from Hurricane Isaac. The bodies will be disposed of in a Pecan Grove landfill that's rated to take household garbage.

"They're separating the bodies from the grass and piling them up," said Hancock County Supervisor David Yarborough. "They have equipment today. It's moving.

"But it's only getting worse," he said. "As they're picking them up, they're busting open. It's worse in one sense and better in another.

"They're getting the job done. They're equipped, but there's people who can't take the sight of something like this," he said. "That's the reason I wouldn't even attempt this with county people. You really should be certified and trained in hazardous waste."

County crews tried to deal with a similar situation after Hurricane Gustav "and we had people getting sick; wound up buying everybody's clothes," he said. "Our people just aren't trained for this."

He said it's better to have the federal government handle this one. State officials said the federal contract is for two weeks, but expect the cleanup to go more quickly than that.

Harrison County used the county's sand-beach crews to remove about 11 tons of dead animals from its beaches on Saturday -- Courthouse Road to the Hancock County line. Even with additional cleanup on Sunday, bring the total closer to 16 tons, they didn't have as many as Hancock County.

But they were still washing up on Monday, Supervisor Kim Savant said.

Harrison County decided it didn't want to wait on the federal government to do the job, Savant said.

Nutria are large, semi-aquatic rodents that are indigenous to South America, eat wetlands plants and can reproduce three times a year with as many as 13 offspring each time, officials said.

"They're like mosquitoes," Savant said. "They continue to reproduce."

Oiled animals

In the meantime, the U.S. Coast Guard reported more than a dozen oiled animals west of the Missis

sippi River near Barataria Bay, La., which had been heavily oiled during the BP oil spill two years ago.

One dead juvenile pelican, 10 oiled dead nutria and two live oiled pelicans were located in the marshes in the vicinity of Myrtle Grove late Sunday.

Wildlife Response Services were there Monday, but cell service was spotty, a Coast Guard official said mid-day, and it was hard to get information for an update. Teams were looking for more oiled wildlife and plan to do necropsies on the dead ones.

Teams located oil in the marshes in the vicinity of two inactive oil production facilities near Myrtle Grove, La., although there is no sign of an active leak, the Coast Guard reported.

The Coast Guard, EPA, and Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality crews were monitoring pollution impacts in the wake of Hurricane Isaac.

And on the other end of the Mississippi Coast, state environmental agencies Monday were dealing with a fish kill in industrial Bayou Casotte in east Pascagoula that was reported Sunday. Biologists were counting fish and taking water samples Monday.

Floating nutria

Chad Lafontaine, with the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality, said Monday that most of the nutria in Hancock County were on the beach, but some were still floating or in the surf.

"Most are dry and can be identified as nutria," Lafontaine said. "Contractors are looking at getting boats to scoop the others out of the water."

State and federal agencies focused cleanup on Washington Street to Lakeshore Road. The carcasses litter most of the 11 miles of Hancock County beaches.

The bodies are tangled in deeper grass, and crews had to develope techniques to deal with this -- hand tools and other equipment.

"It's slow going today," Lafontaine said. "The odor is pretty bad and it gets worse every day. Obviously, it's rotting carcasses.

"The closer you get to Waveland and Buccaneer State Park, the worse the smell because the concentration is heavier.

"We're dealing with a heat issue too," he said. "But we've got a good game plan on how to approach it."

Sunday was a trial run to identify problems and solve them.

He said crews will leave the carcasses that are out in the marsh and aren't in public-use or residential areas.

"We're letting mother nature take care of those."

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