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Tar balls, sheen in Pontchartrain

NEW ORLEANS – New Orleans, which managed to escape oil from the BP spill for more than two months, can’t hide any longer.

For the first time since the accident, oil from the ruptured well is seeping into Lake Pontchartrain, threatening another environmental disaster for the huge body of water that was rescued from pollution in 1990s to become, once more, a bountiful fishing ground and a popular spot for boating and swimming.

“Our universe is getting very small,” Pete Gerica, president of the Lake Pontchartrain Fishermen’s Association, said Tuesday.

Over the weekend, tar balls and an oil sheen pushed by strong winds from Hurricane Alex slipped past barges that were supposed to block the passes connecting the Gulf of Mexico to the lake.

Barges were lined up at bayous and passes to stop the oil from coming in, and cleanup crews Tuesday used nets to collect tar balls from marinas and docks. They also planned to lay out permeable booms. But the lake was too choppy for skimmer vessels to operate.

About 1,700 pounds of oily waste has been collected, said Suzanne Parsons Stymiest, a spokeswoman for St. Tammany Parish.

The amount of oil infiltrating 600-square-mile Lake Pontchartrain appears small so far. Tests on seafood have not turned up any oil contamination, said Brian Lezina, a state biologist.

Out in the Gulf, meanwhile, stormy weather kept skimmers from working offshore Tuesday and delayed the hookup of a big new ship intended to suck more crude from the well.