Sunday, January 16, 2022

City leaders meet with USCG on oil spill plans



James C. Riviere, PhD
Interim City Manager

On June 10, 2010 City Manager Dr. Jim Riviere, City Councilman Larry Magel, and Deputy Chief Chris Byrne traveled to Miami for a meeting with the United States Coast Guard (USCG) Peninsula Unified Command. Upon their arrival they were met by the Deputy Incident Commander who began an incident briefing with the City representatives. The briefing included members of his Command Staff specializing in Prevention, Information Science, Environmental and Wildlife Biology. The Superintendent of Everglades National Park also participated as a member of the Command Staff.

The briefing began with an overview of the current forecast map and a detailed explanation of the spill location, loop current, and eddy currents. Unified Command has determined a trigger point located 94 miles off our Coast which is monitored by research vessels and daily over flights. If oil is identified in the area of the 94 mile mark it would trigger response actions for pre-positioning of mitigation equipment. The loop current travels at 3 – 4 knots but currents near Marco Island travel much slower, one-half knot, which is to our advantage for response planning. Current forecast models showed that if oil entered the loop current it could travel in two distinct directions, one being south through the Keys and along the East Coast up to the Ft. Pierce area, and secondly an eddy current traveling clockwise back to the original location. They rate Marco Island as a low threat for near and future oil impact.

City representatives provided the Unified Command with detailed maps of Marco Island, maps of the Area Contingency Plan for our area, along with requested additions to the Plan. The Unified Command expressed their appreciation for our actions.

Unified Command discussed protective actions for our beachfront. Due to the consistency of the oil being very weathered by the time it would reach Marco Island, boom would not be effective. The use of hay bales and scattered hay was discussed and the Unified Command strongly discouraged its use explaining that tar balls would not attach to it and that the hay itself can present an environmental hazard.

Unified Command explained that Marco Island is an environmentally sensitive area of importance with many triple diamond designations. Our beach, which is rated as double diamond, exceeds the rating of most Florida beaches; most do not have any diamond rating. The environmentally sensitive area rating is to our favor if and when response is needed.

Unified Command and the City representatives discussed the following protective actions:

  • Continue twice a day beach patrols
  • Initiate waterway patrols utilizing groups such as USGC Auxiliary and Power Squadron to identify litter gathering areas and examine trash eddies.
  • Research training opportunities and organize volunteers if and when needed
  • Mark boom location to assist contractors
  • Prepare claims against BP and assist local businesses in filing such claims.

Additional discussion involved resource availability and allocation. Regarding boom, this event has depleted the supply. The government has purchased all boom capacity, and production of 250,000 ft. per week is being accomplished. Overall 4 million feet of boom is deployed or staged for this event.

Analysis of tar balls found outside of the spill area, such as those found in Key West and the Dry Tortugas, have indicated that they are not from the Deepwater Horizon, but are considered “spills of opportunity” from ships cleaning out their bilges. In addition, the oil from the well is of a lower viscosity than the heavy Exxon Valdez spill and is more easily dispersed.

The USCG Peninsula Unified Command has four branches operating and reporting to them, St. Petersburg, Key West, Miami and Jacksonville. The Unified Command reports to Area Command in Mobile Alabama and the National Incident Command Center in New Orleans.

The USCG Peninsula Unified Command has offered to send a representative to participate in a special called Council Meeting to discuss the operations with our citizens.

The Unified Command and City Representatives met for two hours. In summary, the protective actions described above are the appropriate actions at this time, and until such time that oil is discovered at the 94 mile trigger zone.

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