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Desire to help with oil spill is great; need for help is small

For two months now we've watched the oil surge endlessly from a hole the size of a dinner plate and worried about the black band of death sliding silently toward Florida's shores.

We want to help. We need to help.

From Tierra Verde to Temple Terrace, we talk of rolling up our sleeves and scrubbing down oily birds, only there are no oily birds.

From Pass-a-Grille to Plant City, we offer our ideas to anyone willing to listen, but those channels are flooded.

John Neary has called everybody from the White House to the Washington Post. The retired builder in Pinellas Point tells them to lower a giant reinforced concrete box over the hole.

"They thank me," he says, "and then they hang up."

Chet Klinger has e-mailed everyone he can think of. The retired 66-year-old even assembled a PowerPoint presentation. His idea, simplified: Cut pipe at sea floor. Slide giant granite discs over hole.

He got an e-mail back from the Florida Division of Emergency Management.

"Please note that thousands of people have submitted possible ideas," the response said. "More than 20,000 ideas on how to stop the flow of oil or contain the oil spill have been sent to BP since the Gulf of Mexico incident."

If only we could plug the hole with good intentions.

"To me this is like declaring war," Klinger said. "We've got an enemy here that's invading our country. It's coming from the bottom of the sea."

If this is war, the home front is active.

Gov. Charlie Crist's citizen service office has fielded 1,200 calls since the April 20 blast. About 750 are from people with an answer.

Capt. Marti Heath of Tampa Bay's Merchant Marine Captains Association told local mariners she needed hands and vessels for cleaning the Florida Panhandle. She heard back from 600 people in 24 hours.

"If I was not a captain, I would be teary-eyed," she said, "because they came out in force."

Shelley Elliott says Scruffy, her friend's 30-foot tugboat, needs to be out there: The boat can get close to the shore in 4 feet of water without injuring the sea grass.

So Elliott, 37, called the Deepwater Horizon Response Unified Command. She gave the woman on the line her name and number. The woman put her on a list but wasn't looking for volunteers.

"It's frustrating," Elliott said, "because your hands are tied."

We have donated our towels, our hair and our undergarments to the cause.

Two teenagers from Ohio saw oily birds on television and cried and hatched a plan.

Caitlyn and Maria Toth passed out fliers outside the mall in Parma and started a Facebook group. Pretty soon they had 450 bottles of Dawn they want to ship to Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary in Indian Shores. Never mind that the sanctuary has yet to clean a bird from the oil spill, or that employees stopped asking for Dawn after a tremendous local response.

Joe Evans, a retired plumber from New Jersey, thinks you could stop the leak by inserting a football-shaped rubber bladder directly into the hole, then filling it with air. Leonard Ewell, 83, says he had a dream about using Epsom salt to clean birds and he tried it and it worked so he wrote the Coast Guard.

They replied on official letterhead, saying his idea was being processed.

"I think they ought to do it right away," Ewell said. "I don't want to wait."

Sixty days of waiting and wondering has made some of us fuzzy. We look at the water now with suspicion.

Two fishermen called the Coast Guard last weekend after seeing something that looked and smelled like oil. It was algae.

We look hard at other things, too.

Don Silverberg of Redington Beach noticed the normally chalky-white ibis poop on his deck had suddenly turned black. Were they eating oil? He called five numbers for an investigator, but no one wanted to take a look.

"I was just trying to be a good guy," he said, "and help out."

Ben Montgomery can be reached at bmontgomery@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8650. Katie Sanders can be reached at ksanders@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8804.

Desire to help with oil spill is great; need for help is small 06/18/10 [Last modified: Saturday, June 19, 2010 4:28pm]
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