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Just in case: Lee County prepares for oil spill fallout

By Staff | May 1, 2010

While local impact is not presently expected, Lee County Emergency Management has begun monitoring the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, and preparing in the event the spill does reach local shores, officials said Friday.
The eastern edge of the oil spill was approximately 300 miles to the north-northwest of Lee County when a prepared statement was issued by the agency.
“We want to be proactive, and ensure that we have the necessary resources ready to respond, as needed,” said Operations Manager J. Stakenburg, in that statement. “Especially knowing the potential impact it could have on our local economy, environment, and even the health of our residents,” .
Emergency Management held a planning meeting with federal, state and local agencies regarding protection of the shoreline and potential oil clean-up, officials said.
Meanwhile, Cape Coral residents are among those growing apprehensive over whether, as a precarious oil spill makes its way across the Gulf of Mexico, off-coast drilling should be allowed near Florida’s coasts .
“I never thought there should be drilling off the coast of Florida,” said Mona Krantz, a Cape Coral resident. “It would hurt the wildlife, our beaches and tourism.”
In the summer of 2008, when gas prices surpassed $4 per gallon, drilling in the Gulf of Mexico seemed a viable and desirable proposition.
Supporters pointed out that new technological advancements in the drilling industry prevented any spills such as after Hurricane Katrina, when according to a study by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, 115 off-shore oil platforms were destroyed but no significant spills off-shore were found.
In fact, the 8 million gallons of oil cleaned up after Katrina came from damage to oil refineries on the Louisiana coast.
Off-shore drilling opponents state that spills could devastate the beaches which help raise $57 billion in tourism revenue, as well as decimate protected species and destroy wetlands.
Even with some hesitation, local opinion on drilling remains mixed.
Some believe that Florida’s 663 miles of beaches shouldn’t be threatened by a potential spill, while others want drilling on the table, and point out that accidents happen in every industry.
“Every industry has accidents, it’s like having a plane crash in the military, does that mean they won’t fly planes anymore?” said Vincent Rouse, another Cape Coral resident.
Rouse said drilling in the Gulf of Mexico will help the country find its own source of oil and end the dependence on foreign sources.
“The whole concept of supply and demand is what is behind every economy,” he said. “We have enough here, it’s like I have money in the bank, but I borrow money to buy my house instead of paying cash.”
Gov.Charlie Crist declared a State of Emergency on Friday for the Panhandle counties of Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa, Walton, Bay and Gulf. He said some 200,000 gallons are gushing into the Gulf each day and efforts to contain the leak aren’t successful.
U.S. Coast Guard officials from Fort Myers Beach said the spill isn’t expected to reach Southwest Florida’s shores.
“All I can say is that the current trajectory isn’t showing the oil spill is going to impact our beaches, however, if it isn’t contained or secured, and it goes on for quite a while, down the road there might be an impact to our beaches in Southwest Florida,” said Lt. Commander Mark Sawyer with the marine safety detachment division on Fort Myers Beach.
Whether local beaches experience any residual effect from the spill depends on a number of variables such as weather and how long it takes for it to be contained.
“We are doing the best to reach out to our stake-holders to be prepared if and when oil should reach our shores,” he said.
Perhaps the most devastating affect of loose oil reaching any Gulf Coast beaches would be to the beginning of the sea turtle nesting season.
Rae Ann Wessel, natural resource policy director for the Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation, said all five species of sea turtles — Loggerhead, Green, Leatherback, Hawksbill and Kemp’s Ridley — have been mating. The nesting season begins Saturday and continues until October.
From Texas to Florida, thousands of turtles will begin laying their eggs on the beach.
“Sea turtles are nesting all over the Gulf Coast,” she said. “Thousands of sea turtles that are mating and preparing to nest, so this is absolutely the worst possible time.”
She said Leatherbacks, in particular, have already begun nesting on some of the beaches on Florida’s Panhandle, a region that is under the State of Emergency.
Wessel said there have been five days of off-shore winds that have benefited Southwest Florida because it blew the oil away, but she’s unsure if the Gulf’s loop current may carry oil beneath the water’s surface. According to NASA’s Earth Observatory, the depth of the oil spill is approximately one mile deep.
Currently, the SCCF is working on a contingency plan and a communication network to help coordinate volunteers and SCCF staff with the U.S. Coast Guard, if a local clean-up is needed.
“We are in the process of an evaluation of what kinds of things we need to do, in what order and building a contingency, communication network so if we need to get word out to a lot of people,” said Wessel.
President Barack Obama, who said in April that he wanted to lift a long-standing moratorium on off-shore drilling in the Altantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico, said Friday no new leases to drill should be issued until all platforms have a new safeguard to prevent anything like the spill last week, reported the Associated Press.
U.S. Senator Bill Nelson, D-Florida, sent a letter to Obama on Thursday asking that further exploration be halted until an investigation determines why the rig exploded, killing 11, and leaked. Nelson also filed legislation to halt the Interior Department from expanding drilling, seismic testing or other exploratory operations.
He also wrote that the rate of the current leak would make the spill as large as the Exxon Valdez is one month.
“As I have argued for decades, drilling too close to the coast poses too great a threat to the economy and environment of Florida and other coastal states,” wrote Nelson.