Mobilization intensifies as spill continues
An anti-drilling demonstration took place in Holmes Beach in February. Another Hands Across the Sands demonstration is scheduled to take place at noon Saturday, June 26, across the country. Protesters are asked to go to protest any expansion of drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and to call for a new clean-energy policy for the United States. For more details, go to www.handsacrossthesand.com.
Robots working for Mote Marine Laboratory are patrolling the Gulf of Mexico.
“Like sentries,” Dr. Barbara Kirkpatrick, a scientist with the Sarasota lab, said of the drones swimming — 24/7 — north and south and east and west in the Gulf searching for oily water.
Meanwhile, officers with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the Florida National Guard and the Florida Civil Air Patrol conducted reconnaissance missions by land, air and sea.
They too were searching for signs of oil off Florida’s west coast.
“We have a responsibility to our residents, businesses and visitors to exhaust all possible avenues and to work to avoid the tragic scenes we have seen along the coastline in Louisiana,” said Florida Gov. Charlie Crist.
He acknowledged the U.S. Coast Guard’s oversight in responding to the Deepwater Horizon disaster, a massive and growing oil spill that began April 20 with the explosion of an oil rig off the coast of Louisiana.
However, the governor said, all the state’s available assets must be dedicated to patrolling the coastline, with the focus, as of last week, from Escambia County to Gulf County.
Manatee County continued to receive all-clear bulletins from its unified command center in St. Petersburg, but such recon missions could take place locally if it appears oil might impact the Tampa Bay and Sarasota Bay areas, according to the State Emergency Operations Center. ATVs would patrol the shore in 5-mile increments looking for signs of weathered oil. Boats would patrol Gulf waters out looking for oil sheen. And aircraft would fly over waters 9 miles out.
Evidence of oil would trigger a containment and cleanup response. The first stage would involve the use of skimming devices, vacuum systems and booming to remove oil from near-shore waters. The second stage, if weathered oil in the form of tar balls washed ashore, would involve trained personnel removing the material by hand or using specialized mechanical equipment.
That’s the kind of information Island residents and businesses owners said they hoped to hear more about at a town meeting scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday, June 17, at the Anna Maria Island Community Center, 407 Magnolia Ave., Anna Maria.
The meeting is sponsored by Keep OFF Manatee. The name serves as a slogan, but also contains an acronym — “OFF” stands for “Oil Free Forever,” said founder Mike Shannon.
Shannon hosted a Keep OFF Manatee organizational meeting at his home June 8 to prepare for this week’s town meeting.
He said the purpose of the town meeting is to get “all the major players … together in one room to let the people of Manatee County know … what our public/governmental agencies are doing to prepare for the possibility of the oil impacting Manatee.”
Also, said Shannon, he wanted government coordinators to learn at the meeting that “we, the private citizens of Manatee, are ready, willing and able” to help.
The response to the spill is a massive private-public campaign that involves British Petroleum, other contracted companies, multiple federal agencies and the Armed Forces, and numerous local and state agencies in Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Florida.
The Manatee County Unified Command alone involves the Florida Emergency Operations Center, DEP, the county natural resources, health, EOC, animal services, marine rescue, parks and recreation and finance departments, as well as the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau and local government officials.
Shannon, manager of the BeachHouse Restaurant in Bradenton Beach, said he invited representatives from local, state and federal government, businesspeople, residents, environmentalists and scientists.
“Every single public official I’ve talked to has been extremely responsive and eager,” he said. “These people are professionals and they’ve been working and working on this problem. And this is our opportunity to hear from them.”
Manatee County Commissioner Carol Whitmore pledged her support. “This looks like a grassroots effort to get everyone in the same room together,” she said.
A tentative town meeting agenda includes presentations from state, Coast Guard, county and Mote representatives, followed by presentations from elected officials, nonprofit representatives and businesspeople and then a question-and-answer session.
“This is an all-hands-on-deck moment,” Shannon said.
Already, without oil reaching the area, the disaster has had a regional impact.
Environmentalists have noted changes in wildlife patterns already this summer, specifically a slow start along the Gulf coast for sea-turtle nesting.
Cortez fishers said they are seeing a decline in sales of commercial seafood because of unfounded fears and a large area of the Gulf is closed.
The convention and visitors bureau has not received a large number of reports that vacationers have canceled trips to the area, but accommodations owners have reported some dropped reservations and real estate agents are hearing concerns from potential homebuyers.
At a glance: The Deepwater disaster
• A containment cap installed on the Deepwater Horizon well June 3 continued last week to collect oil and gas, which was transported to a drillship on the surface.
Crews aboard beach clean-up vehicles sift oil on the southeast Louisiana shoreline June 10. Thousands of crews using spill-response technology, as part of the nation’s largest oil spill recovery effort, are spread throughout the northwest Gulf area to battle the spill. Islander Photo: U.S. Coast Guard/Luke Pinneo
Efforts to drill two relief wells continued, but the wells will not be completed for three months.
• The White House June 10 estimated that the amount of oil that began gushing from the BP-leased well in late April was as much as 50,000 barrels a day, far more than the first estimates.
• Cleanup work continued in the Gulf of Mexico and on shore in northwest Florida, Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi.
• About 3,600 vessels, some of them captained by commercial fishers, were involved in the cleanup, including skimmers, tugs, barges and recovery ships.
• An estimated 2.3 million feet of containment boom and 2.7 million feet of sorbent boom was deployed, none locally, as Manatee County continued to get an all-clear forecast.
• More than 24,600 people — either hired personnel or trained volunteers — were working to protect the shoreline and wildlife and cleanup vital coastlines in the northern Gulf states.
• Late last week, dime to 6 inch-sized tar balls and tar patties were found in widely scattered areas from the Alabama/Florida state line east to Okaloosa County. Tar ball and tar patty findings are more concentrated in the western-most Florida counties.
• There was no significant amount of oil moving toward the Loop Current. However, the Loop Current Ring had begun to reattach to the main Loop Current, creating the potential to move a small amount of oil to the Florida Straits. An incident command center opened in Miami to deal with possible oil pollution.
• As of June 11, BP had received more than 42,000 claims and paid out about $53 million to Gulf businesses reporting losses due to the spill.
• The cost of the response to the spill, as of June 11, was estimated at $1.43 billion.
Deepwater disaster town meeting set
A town meeting to discuss the Deepwater Horizon disaster and plans to respond if oil drifts toward Manatee County will take place at 7 p.m. Thursday, June 17, at the Anna Maria Island Community Center.
The newly formed Keep OFF Manatee grassroots group called the meeting.
“Come,” urged Keep OFF Manatee founder Mike Shannon. “If you live on the Island or up river.… This is your problem too.”
Wanted: Boats and captains
The Merchant Marine Captains Association is seeking experienced boaters who could volunteer, if needed, to respond to the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster.
The organization for the Tampa Bay region is compiling a volunteer list.
For more information or to submit a name, call 727-238-8518.