Above, a giant tar ball washes up on the beach. Below, Scott Lesh on his Mule ATV at Orange Beach, Alabama.
Three months on the BP spill
Skagway man returns after summer cleaning beaches
By KATIE EMMETS
This summer, Skagway’s Scott Lesh helped clean up the British Petroleumoil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
For three months, Lesh, 22, supervised a team of about 180 workers, most older than he, on the shores of Orange Beach, Alabama.
On April 20, a BP oil drilling rig exploded causing the biggest off-shore oil spill recorded in the petroleum industry. The spill caused about 4.9 million barrels to be released from the earth. Only recently was it finally capped.
After the spill hit, Lesh went online in search of a job that would allow him to assist in the clean up.
“I’m definitely the type of guy that wants to be a part of something like that when it happens,” Lesh said upon returning to Skagway this month. “I like getting involved in things that are big scale. That was the biggest oil spill in the world.”
During his online search, Lesh said he found ten companies on Cleanupoil.com, called each of them and heard back from three including his soon-to-be employer Moran Environmental Recovery, LLC.
Lesh said Moran specializes in oil spills, tank spills, asbestos and “anything that’s bad for your body.”
After continually calling Moran’s human relations department for a week and leaving messages every day, Lesh finally received a call from a recruiter.
“I schmoozed him and made friends with him on the phone and he told me he put my application at the top of the pile,” he said.
Two weeks later Lesh received a call from John Silva, deputy incident manager of Moran’s clean-up crew in Orange Beach, telling him he got the job.
At the time, Lesh was attending the University of Montana College of Technology and the company flew him down from Montana first class, which he admitted might have been an accident.
“The woman who booked the flight was the CEO’s secretary and she might have just gone through the motions and clicked first class,” Lesh said, adding that it was his first time flying in luxury.
Although he was hired to work on a boat, when he started on May 17, his boss had other plans for him.
“I decided that I was looking for some supervisory personnel, and Scott seemed to be very mature for his age so I gave him oversight to a portion of the crew,” Silva said by phone. “He seemed to pick up what needed to get done very well.”
As opposed to most Moran employees who are educated about the company’s job responsibilities ahead of time, Silva said Lesh “came in off the streets” and received on the job training, which he got the hang of very quickly.
Lesh said he supervised about 180 people for 12 hours a day, seven days a week. The crew’s responsibility was to gather tar balls off the beach that came rolling in from the water and put them in bags.
Lesh said in the beginning the crews picked up enough oil and debris to fill 3,000 bags a day.
In order to bounce back and forth between the six groups of 30 workers, Lesh was provided a Kawasaki Mule, an ATV vehicle, which he put 150 miles on during his three months of work.
Silva said a big portion of Lesh’s job was to constantly be checking on his team’s health conditions.
“An average day was in the 90s with a 70 percent humidity which made the head index over 100 degrees,” he said adding that it got up to 130 degrees on some days.
Lesh said he was in charge of passing out water and ice. Each day, at least one person would overheat and had to be taken to an ambulance, he said.
Although he had a smooth transition into supervisor mode, a local news station provided some problems for Lesh.
One day, while on the job, Lesh was approached by a man asking him why the clean up was taking so long. Lesh said he only talked for 30 seconds before he realized the man was holding a camera at his side and told the man, as per company policy, he was not allowed to give sound bytes or interviews.
When he got home, Lesh said turned on the TV and heard “Tonight: are the beach guides really doing their job?”
“After that they showed some oil in the water,” he said. “Then I heard the guy asking ‘why are you taking two hour lunch breaks?’ and the camera panned to me, and I was standing there with my mouth wide open. It was awful.”
The owner of Moran made a conference call to the supervisor of Lesh’s team and said he hoped ‘that guy was no longer a Moran employee,’ Lesh said.
When the owner came for a visit in the following weeks, Lesh got the opportunity to show him around on the ATV. Neither of them knew who each other was at the time, and Lesh said when his supervisors told the owner that it was Lesh that was on the news, he understood why still had his job.
Silva said the company likes to remain as behind the scenes as possible so incidents like that did not occur.
“The reporters never identify who they are, and they show up in shorts and sandals,” Silva said. “The camera wasn’t in sight until it was too late.”
A typical “light oil” streak on the sand, and then the area cleaned up an hour later. On some days the oil would be back two hours later. Photos courtesy of Scott Lesh
Every day, Lesh would wake up at 4:45 a.m. in his Perdido Key, Florida beach-front condo, which was provided by the company, and commuted 5 minutes across the state border to be at work at 6 a.m. In the three months he worked for Moran, he only received six days off.
Sometimes, Lesh said would wake up in the middle of the night thinking he was at work and wouldn’t know he was still in his room until he couldn’t feel sand under his feet.
“One night I ran into my roommates bedroom and told him we had to get the crews off the beach,” he said. “He said ‘Dude, it’s 4 in the morning, and it’s your day off tomorrow.’”
With $15 per hour, Lesh worked 84 hour weeks and received about $1,500 a week with a $40 per day food stipend for breakfast and dinner. Lunch was provided at work.
He said he went to bed relatively early each night and never went to party with the rest of his co-workers.
“I took this job very seriously,” he said.” It was the first time I was ever in a supervising position.”
Lesh said it was the first time he received a job of this caliber without the help of his father.
“I knew that no matter what decisions I made, the responsibility would fall solely on me,” he said.
And he made the right decisions.
Silva said Lesh did a very good job while employed for Moran.
“He always did what he had to do, and he did it well,” he said. “We never had any issues with Scott. He was definitely working in a harsh environment. He showed up every day, and he was very dependable.”