Murray named leader of Coastal Watch initiative
Local residents looking to take part in a coordinated volunteer effort to clean up Sanibel’s beaches, should the oil spill currently located in the northern Gulf of Mexico make its way down to Southwest Florida, now have an outlet for that potential call to action.
On Tuesday, City Manager Judie Zimomra announced the creation of the community’s Coastal Watch program.
“The purpose of the Coastal Watch program is to train Sanibel volunteers as front-line reporters and observers," said Zimomra. "Members of the Coastal Watch program will be trained to serve as the city’s eyes in the field not because we expect oil on our beaches, but because we want to be prepared for all possibilities.”
Maj. Michael F. Murray, a 26-year veteran of the Sanibel Police Department, will organize and lead the initiative.
Murray was appointed as the city’s Emergency Management Coordinator in 2003. He is a member of the Florida Emergency Preparedness Association, is a current Lee County Disaster Advisory Committee member and is fully trained in National Incident Management Systems by FEMA. In 2005, Murray was voted Officer of the Year by the Lee County Bar Association.
"People have been coming up to me, because I’m out and about in the community, asking what they can do to help," said Murray. "A lot of people told me to let them know when (the city) is going to do something. So many people want to help."
According to Murray, the island’s shoreline areas have been divided into 30 individual sectors. The city is looking for volunteers to walk those sectors twice each day — morning and afternoon/evening — to look for signs of oil contamination. Each volunteer may sign up to conduct both daily searches, but will be limited to one sector per person.
Also, the Coastal Watch volunteers — who may register via the City of Sanibel’s official website, located at www.mysanibel.com — will not collect or come in direct contact with any oil. Volunteers will be identified with t-shirts, caps and Sanibel Police Department-issued identification cards.
Both Zimomra and Murray stressed that if in the unexpected event that the volunteers do observe oil, they will report exact locations, type and size of the oil as well as report on any impacts to wildlife and/or habitat.
In addition to appointing Murray to lead the Coastal Watch program, Zimomra announced that Gates Castle, the city’s Director of Public Works, will be responsible for evaluating alternative technologies the city is currently assessing for application if, in the unexpected event, oil does reach the beaches and shores of Sanibel.
Castle and his staff of engineers are currently evaluating several alternative technologies. Their recommendations and observations will be the basis for deployment in the event of oil reaching Sanibel.
“Castle and his staff completed a similar thorough review of alternative technologies for removing algae from the beaches during that threat," Zimomra stated, noting that the Department of Public Works has been asked to identify “all practical options” that may have application here.
"We have carefully evaluated the rate of success of the alternatives tried along Florida’s panhandle and continue to adjust our plans accordingly," Zimomra added. "Foremost among the lessons learned is that we need to prepare for this disaster as we do for all disasters; take every step we can as a community to prepare for the worst and pray for best.”
Zimomra also announced that the city’s Finance Director, Sylvia Edwards, has confirmed that — as of June 15 — Sanibel has $12.6 million in unrestricted reserves available to access in the event the city incurs oil related expenses.
“Our contingency plans take into consideration that we do have some level of funds available to mobilize our own resources in the event that other levels of government and the responsible parties do not properly protect Sanibel,” she stated.
Zimomra emphasized that the city would seek all avenues to be totally reimbursed and made whole by British Petroleum, the responsible party for the Deepwater Horizon disaster.
"At this time, the beaches of Sanibel, and all of Southwest Florida, remain in pristine condition with no known threat from the Deepwater Horizon Oil spill," a city press release issued on Tuesday afternoon stated. "Over the past 57 days, the City of Sanibel has continued to refine and update our disaster contingency plans to address any threat of oil that Sanibel may encounter."
Members of the city staff will continue to coordinate directly with the staffs of the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, the Lee County Office of Emergency Management, and the island’s non-profit organizations regarding the progress of the oil spill and any potential impact on Southwest Florida’s waterways and shorelines.
"We are doing all of this not because we’re in any imminent danger," said Zimomra. "We just want to be prepared in the event that (the oil spill) does come here."