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Officials discuss ‘worst case’ environmental impact of Gulf oil spill

By Staff | May 8, 2010

Officials from Lee County Emergency Operations Center, the Fort Myers Beach Marine Resources Task Force, local START chapter, San Carlos Bay Power Squadron, Lee County Visitors Convention Bureau and Ostego Bay Oil Spill Co-op were among those who gathered to discuss and learn about local measures to take regarding worst-case scenarios from the current Gulf oil spill at a workshop at Ostego Bay Foundation.
The local Oil Spill Response Cooperative workshop educated participants on the ecological and environmental aspects, what resources are available locally and what volunteers can legally do if response cleanup from the impact is needed.
“The coordination is done by the U.S. Coast Guard and, before any of volunteers either hope to deploy booms or clean up marine wildlife which has been coated with oil, we need certification to do that,” said MRTF chair Jeff Werner. “There are things that we can legally do and cannot legally do. In emergencies, communication before, during and after is key.”
To date, the Town of Fort Myers Beach only has a written plan for the Matanzas Pass Mooring Field.
“We need to expand that out if we want to protect the Back Bay, our mangroves, our estuaries as well as our beaches,” said Werner.
Joanne Semmer, president of Ostego Bay Oil Spill Co-op, will offer oil spill certification classes in the near future. She is a certified instructor under the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
“There is hazardous materials training for land, but OSHA requires specific training for oil spill responses,” said Semmer. “During this possible emergency, OSHA allows us to hold a four-hour class for beach cleanup. Before you go and do cleanup operations, you need to be certified so that you are safe, knowledgeable and don’t harm the environment.”
Lee EOC, whose website www.leeeoc.com , has a breaking news section and countless links for additional eduction including the Coast Guard’s Area Contingency Plan, is responsible for coordinating all volunteer efforts. Representatives J. Stakenburg and Josh Roberts warned the primary push for cleanup currently calls for only paid contractors funded by British Petroleum.
“We’re preparing ourselves in case that doesn’t happen,” said Stakenburg. “This is a national contingency planned event and, because the burden for funding for the response and cleanup falls on the responsible party, we can’t spend what we’d like to and hope to be reimbursed. Anything we do above the area contingency plan, we have to put a protection proposal together that needs to be forwarded up to the incident command post (U.S. Coast Guard Sector St. Petersburg) which will be forwarded to Sector Mobile where officials from Coast Guard, Environmental Protection Agency and BP will decide what can be funded and authorize us back.”
“The best way anyone can help right now is to continue to be a good steward of our environment and pick up trash after themselves whenever they visit our beaches and shorelines,” said Roberts.