British Petroleum’s community liaison Andrew Van Chau now has additional support from another point man, Mark Stultz, the company’s current Public Information Officer stationed in the Florida Keys.
“I’m new to the Keys, but not new to response,” Stultz affirmed Monday evening in the auditorium at Marathon High School. “Andrew has worked to build a relationship with many of you, and I’ll work to continue that. The words we say will not matter if we don’t back up our actions.”
Councilman Dick Ramsay called for the open community meeting last Tuesday night during the council’s regularly scheduled meeting, citing what he and other council members felt was an inadequate answer to the question, “Do you have a plan?”
State Rep. Ron Saunders, Kim Sovia-Crandon – Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s Keys Congressional Aide, County Commissioner Mario DiGennaro and representatives from the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and MOTE Marine Lab joined the city council in allowing the community to voice their concerns.
“My plan is to prepare for the worst and hope for the best,” Saunders opened. “I’m not here tonight to give out information but to hear from you.”
Saunders was openly critical of BP and their response to date, elaborating that though dispersants are being used at the source of the well and leak, his concern centered on the possibility of sub-surface plumes that could cover the Keys’ fragile coral reefs.
“I’ve been assured those dispersants will not be used in state waters,” he continued.
Responding to many local residents’ frustrations, Saunders said he’d recently spoken with Dr. Larry Tyree, President of Florida Keys Community College, about charging for cleanup response training.
“People don’t want to pay for the mess BP created,” he said to much applause. “They [BP] should provide funding to FKCC so any resident from Key Largo to Key West can assist with the cleanup.”
Dr. Dave Vaughn, Executive Director of MOTE Marine Lab, likely said it best when he expressed, “I feel so sorry for the Monroe County fishermen and commerce…all it took was one tar ball. Now people are calling me to ask if I’m evacuating!”
Sanctuary Superintendent Sean Morton and Research Coordinator Scott Donahue elaborated, as part of the US Coast Guard’s environmental response team and NOAA’s probable forecast.
When discussing the amount of boom material currently located in the Keys and what would be available should the three sentry vessels west of the Dry Tortugas and the Keys chain begin detecting oil in the water, Donahue cautioned that environmental consideration and the sacrifices of certain response mechanisms must be considered. Placing boom – which many have already explained would be useless against tar balls, the anticipated form in which oil could arrive in the Keys – around a mangrove island could be done at the expense of the grasses and seabeds.
“Right now, we have a cone of uncertainty similar to a hurricane,” Morton explained. “Within those boundaries, we’ve not seen any sheens or tar balls.”
Capt. Pat DeQuattro of USCG Sector Key West said the monitoring effort now includes more planes and vessels. The Area Contingency Plan is not designed, he continued, to respond to oil that is still hundreds of miles away.
“So much is happening outside our view,” DeQuattro assured. “Every effort, every tar ball they retrieve out there will be one less that hits our shores.”
Tom Linley, Chief of Staff for the Governor’s Commission on Volunteerism and Community Service – Volunteer Florida – said cleanup efforts will be handled by trained professionals, but encouraged concerned audience members to get connected, get affiliated so that if the need does arise, the state’s emergency response volunteer services can utilize local assistance.
“Get out there on the water and enjoy the resources, and if you see something, then call the appropriate agency,” he encouraged, adding that the best thing people can do is tell their friends and family outside the Keys to volunteer to be a tourist.
“We have to be consistent with that message,” he concluded.