Forget BP: Town Takes Oil Spill Response Into Its Own Hands

Jamie Hinton, chief of the volunteer fire department in Magnolia Springs, Ala., has lived near the water all his life. The town he calls home is an idyllic community off of Mobile Bay. It's a sleepy town, with just 1,000 residents, and is very dependent on the water. Their mail is delivered by boats. The waters off their coast are rich in crabs, shrimp and fish.

So when the BP oil spill began in the Gulf of Mexico, Hinton said he and others in Magnolia Springs knew that this spill could threaten their way of life. Their hope was that BP and the U.S. government would step in to protect their town.

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When they reached out to emergency management officials, Hinton said, they were shocked by the response.

"The first thing the guy said was, 'People are blowing this thing out of proportion, it's just light crude,'" Hinton said. "I told him I don't care if it's light crude or dark crude or sweet crude, I don't want it in my damn river."

Now, 50 days after the rig explosion that set off the spill, the people of Magnolia Springs say BP and the federal government have been all but absent here.

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Workers came in and laid down one line of boom at the mouth of Weeks Bay, the little arm of Mobile Bay fed by both the Magnolia and Fish rivers, but within days the rough currents had shredded that boom, making it useless to protect their coast line, Hinton said.

So instead of waiting on more help from BP, the town banded together and came up with its own plan to keep the oil out of the Weeks Bay.

"We're not engineers or anything else," Hinton said. "We're people who had a vision and come hell or high water we're going to put it to work."

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The community held a meeting, where three dozen resident brainstormed ideas on how to keep the toxic mess from coming to their shores.

Together, they agreed on a plan and Hinton went about finding the needed supplies. The plan called for nine barges to barricade the mouth of the little bay. The barges would then block the waves and currents, protecting the two lines of boom they hope will stop the oil.

Hinton submitted the blue-print for the plan to the unified incident command in Mobile in mid-May. At first they waited for a response, but as the oil oozed closer and the silence continued, Hinton and Magnolia Springs decided not to wait for the government any longer.

"Let's stop the oil. If we get in trouble for doing something that we're not supposed to be doing we'll ask for forgiveness later," Mayor Charles Houser told ABC News.

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It was a sentiment echoed by Hinton and others through the town.

"I don't depend on anybody but my people. Me and my people," Hinton said.

"It could have been just like Louisiana. They waited and nothing happened and now they're up in the marsh with it. So I'm glad to get it going," local carpenter Chuck Kelly told ABC News.

Finally, last week, on the fourth try, Hinton got the OK to implement the plan. By then things were already well under way, and this past Sunday the barrier system was completed. The townspeople say they hope it will protect both the Magnolia and the Fish rivers.

The town is spending $6,000 a day on boom and renting the barges. The state of Alabama has put up $200,000 from the $25 million BP allotted it to fund Magnolia Springs' operation, but that money will run out in three weeks.

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That won't stop the town from saving its water, Hinton said. If need be, they will stand in the river themselves to block the oil from coming in, he said.

"If we could, I promise you that I could get enough people to stand all the way across that, holding each other arm to arm to keep the oil out of here," Hinton said.

For now the oil is just 12 miles away, getting closer every day. But if the people of Magnolia Springs have anything to do with it, it won't get into their town without a fight.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.