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Island, county officials discuss oil spill response

By Staff | May 19, 2010

As news of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster continues to attract the attention of coastal communities from Louisiana to Florida, concerned citizens and county officials are coordinating emergency response plans should the local area experience a direct or indirect impact.

Last week, members of the Captiva Erosion Prevention District (CEPD) gathered with representatives of the Lee County Emergency Operations Center (EOC), Captiva Fire Department, Lee County Sheriff’s Department and other local agencies to discuss an action plan for off-shore, near-shore and on-shore response.

At the May 12 meeting, EOC staff members briefed attendees on whom will head up the recovery effort should the spill impact Southwest Florida. The United States Coast Guard has overall responsibility with various federal, state and local agencies working through them in a unified command operation developed after 9/11. Current emergency contingency plans, first drafted in 1995, are being reviewed and modified, and they continue to evolve as more information becomes available. These plans would be implemented, EOC officials stated, within 72 hours of forecast impact.

In addition, EOC officials explained that the national focus as to what is to be protected is environmental and ecological; the beaches are "not a current priority."

Presently, the CEPD is coordinating its efforts with the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation (SCCF), who has a significant stake in protecting environmentally-sensitive areas both on both Captiva and Sanibel. CEPD has also held discussions with Lee County staff assigned responsibility for environmentally-sensitive areas in unincorporated Lee County (of which Captiva is one). They have identified sensitive areas at risk on Captiva and whether they are protected. When sensitive areas have been missed or appear unprotected, CEPD is sending these locations to the U.S. Coast Guard by way of the EOC.

In a May 17 memorandum to Steve Boutelle of Lee County’s Department of Natural Resources, the CEPD made a number of recommendations after reviewing the U.S. Coast Guard Contingency Plan.

"Protection of the mangroves requires a three diamond designation," the memo states. "The areas that should be included are Buck Key, Albright Island and the mangrove forest at South Seas Island Resort (SSIR). Buck Key has at least two openings on the east side of the Key (Hurricane Hole aka Lloyd’s Lagoon) and one on the Roosevelt Channel side."

In addition, the CEPD requested that the north and south entrances to Roosevelt Channel be boomed.

"The sandy beach area along the shoreline of Captiva Island should be designated a two-diamond area. It is a turtle nesting and shoreline bird nesting area," was also suggested by the CEPD. The Coast Guard designates areas with the highest priority with three diamonds. Lesser priority areas are marked with two diamonds, and still lesser priority areas are marked with one diamond.

The economic impact of beaches should also receive consideration.

"The potential economic importance to Lee County and the state from the ramifications of this spill to Captiva cannot be sufficiently emphasized," Mike Mullins, chairman of the CEPD, stated in an e-mail on Monday. "The Captiva beaches and mangroves are treasured elements both ecologically and environmentally. Captiva has $1.5 billion in property values and has produced annual sales revenues in excess of $50 million. Captiva businesses and homes generate property taxes in aggregate of about $20 million annually as well as state and county sales and bed taxes exceeding $5 million annually. Our five-mile island has a big affect on Lee County."

Given the economic and ecologic value of Captiva, Mullins requested that his fellow CEPD committee members and interested parties should contact all appropriate representatives and other Captivans to assure they appreciate these important facts about the significance of the island.

Judie Zimomra, Sanibel’s City Manager, also spoke during last Wednesday’s information session. She agreed that Captiva officials are doing the right thing in coordinating an emergency response plan with Lee County ahead of any imminent oil spill impact warnings.

"We are working very closely on this, because geographically we all should be working together," said Zimomra. "It is essential that we coordinate our efforts. This isn’t just a local issue… it’s a global issue."

"Between Lee County, SCCF, Sanibel and CEPD, there are many people and agencies planning and working to minimize the impact should the spill come our way," an CEPD e-mail sent on Tuesday afternoon stated. "CEPD will continue to keep a close eye of the progress of the oil leak and look out for Captiva’s precious resources."