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Cleanup continues along Mississippi coastal areas

Gov. Haley Barbour has announced a yearlong economic impact study to examine the effects of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

Barbour said Wednesday that participants will include the state College Board, Departments of Employment Security, Environmental Quality and Marine Resources, Mississippi Development Authority, the Department of Revenue and the Gulf Coast Business Council.

The $600,000 study will be funded equally by BP and anticipated grant money from the U.S. Economic Development Administration.

“We need a clear grasp on how this oil spill will impact the State of Mississippi and local communities for years to come,” Barbour said in a statement. “We want a picture of exactly how this spill will effect Mississippi businesses, families and communities. This study will help as state leaders, agencies and local governments create long-term coastal restoration plans.”

Barbour said the study will collect and analyze key economic indicators including employment data, tax revenues and socio-economic information. This data would be used by the team to formulate economic forecasts and the potential impact of the spill on the state’s economy.

Meanwhile, more oil encroachment Wednesday forced state officials to close parts of the beach in Hancock County.

“It’s a lot of tar balls, a lot of small ones on the beach in Waveland, Bay St. Louis and unincorporated areas near the Silver Slipper casino,” said Brian Adam, director of Hancock County Emergency Management.

In addition, nearly 69 miles of shoreline in Harrison and Jackson counties had been touched by oil as of Wednesday, according to the Joint Information Command in Mobile, Ala.

Officials said dense coverage of tar balls and tar patties made beach access difficult.

Cleanup is expected to take two to three days, they said in a news release.

Beach advisories also remained in effect for Jackson and Harrison counties.

MDEQ officials said more tar balls were scattered around the barrier islands. They continued to urge people to avoid contact with oil-related materials such as tar balls and tar mats and stay out of the water if these materials are visible.

In Hancock County, MDEQ and local officials said tar mats and patties were washing in from west of the Long Beach Harbor into the edge of Pass Christian late Wednesday night.

Harrison County Emergency Manager Rupert Lacy told the Sun Herald that the material was in large mats, floating near the bottom, and breaking up and washing onto the beach in smaller pieces.

Lacy said about 300 cleanup workers out were working overnight, scooping up the material.

Mayor Billy Skellie said the largest tar patties, those the size of school buses, are out in the water and breaking up before they reach the beach.

Also Wednesday, BP officials said there are about 800 Vessels of Opportunity employed in coastal Mississippi in the program that uses privately owned boats for skimming, boom work and transportation, according to BP officials.

The program is newly “targeted at using local commercial and charter fishing vessels and crews to respond to the oil spill and minimize the impact on the local community and people,” said Judith Luberski, BP vice president and lead coordinator of the Vessels of Opportunity Program.