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Date of Issue: June 09, 2010

Mangroves specialist proposes filters to fight oil

Tom Mayers at the family’s Lands End property on the northern tip of Longboat Key. Islander Photo: Lisa Neff

From the dock at his family’s property on the north tip of Longboat Key, Tom Mayers looks out on Longboat Pass, the drawbridge spanning the pass and then, to the east, the mangrove shoreline, the island sanctuaries.

The native Longboat Key resident, boat builder and environmental consultant is refining his idea to protect the Sarasota Bay region from oil.

“It’s not a 100 percent solution, but it could ameliorate the problem,” Mayers says. “Obviously it’s best if no oil comes here.”

Mayers’ proposal involves installing filters or absorbent curtains under local bridge spans — imagine absorbent volleyball nets hung low, from column to column, on the Manatee, Cortez, Longboat Pass, New Pass and Ringling bridges and dipping, 4-8 feet into the water.

“The bridges really are where the water comes and goes,” he says. “So, we can use the structures we have to collect the oil.”

An area under the bridges could be left open for boats to pass, and marine life could pass below the filters.

Plus, says Mayers, commercial fishers idled by fishery closures in the Gulf of Mexico could be hired to erect and maintain the filters.

Mayers grew up at Lands End, the family Longboat Key property since 1913 that is accessed from a shell drive just south of the Longboat Pass Bridge.

“We are surrounded by water, and the bays here are the nursery ground of the Gulf,” he says, sitting in an Adirondack chair looking north to Anna Maria Island. A few feet from Mayers’ chair stands a great blue heron that he has nicknamed “Big Bird.” Both bird and man watch the silvery flash of hundreds of fish in the water.

“This is one of the most beautiful spots in all of Florida,” Mayers says, assessing his view.

Mayers earns a living as an environmental consultant, working with property owners and developers on protecting and maintaining mangroves.

In the fifth week of the spill in the Gulf of Mexico, an acquaintance of Mayers asked him for his thoughts about protecting the Florida coastline.

At first, he says, he thought to leave the problem-solving to the hired specialists.

But with the repeated failed efforts of BP to close the leak and contain the spill and with forecasters predicting oil would soon hit Pensacola, Mayers decided it was time for American ingenuity.

Filters on the bridges may be a better option than boom in some locations, such as Longboat Pass, he emphasizes.

“Have you seen the current here?” Mayers asks, gesturing toward the pass. “That’s a 2-knot current.… You can’t swim against 2 knots.”

Mayers detailed his proposal in a letter he sought to share with the president, congressional members, emergency planners and BP.

Mayers is not alone in offering suggestions to help minimize the damage of the largest oil spill in U.S. history. A BP spokesperson said the company has received more than 20,000 formal recommendations on how to stop the flow of oil or contain the oil spill. Ideas have come from people around the world and in many languages — from English to Arabic to Russian.

What happens to the ideas?

BP maintains each “alternative response technologies” recommendation is entered into a database for review by a team of 30 technical and operational personnel for feasibility and application. The suggestion gets placed into one of three categories:

• Not possible.

• Already considered/planned.

• Feasible.

From the 20,000 suggestions sent to BP in the last month, 100 were still under review as of June 3.

Perhaps the highest-profile submission to the unified command handling the oil spill response was from Kevin Costner, who has invested millions in a powerful centrifuge that the actor claims can separate oil from water, and dump the oil into a holding tank.

Mayers says he hasn’t had any official response to his recommendation. A Panhandle congressman said he only reads letters from his constituents. And, Mayers says, “I tried to send it to President Obama because I figure he’s a nice guy, but there’s a filter that will not allow more than one page to his e-mail.”