“Governor Charlie Crist calls it, ‘a volcano.’ But, what they’re telling me right now is we’re not in The Loop, and they do not expect us to get this. In others words, I’m bringing you good news. We’re not in a state of jeopardy.”
County Commissioner Mario DiGennaro was reassuring while speaking to a room of over 120 community members this week in the library on the campus of Florida Keys Community College. The forum was held to discuss the potential impact from the BP oil spill off the coast of Louisiana to the Florida Keys in the coming weeks. At the front of the forum was Dr. Patrick Rice, Dean of Marine Science and Technology. His panel consisted of coral reef ecology expert Dr. Alex Brylske, Monroe County Mayor Silvia Murphy and a number of representatives from organizations like the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.
“This is a very time sensitive issue,” said Rice. “The time to organize is now, before the impacts are felt.”
The audience was comprised of citizens from a wide range of industries including doctors of marine biology, charter boat captains, business owners, the mastermind of the Vandenberg project Joe Weatherby and Kevin Freestone, the Lower Keys and Big Pine owner of TowBoat U.S.
“When are we going to be told what we need to do?” asked Freestone. “I think that the people who are certified to do this business of disaster clean-up ought to be brought in at the ground floor. We’re standing by front and center.”
Freestone moved to the Keys 15 years ago and his crews are Hazmat trained and standing by.
“We’re willing to do whatever is safe,” Freeman filled us in. “We have 12 boats available, and a 125-foot boat that can cross the Atlantic if we need to get to Panama.”
The problem, according to Brylske, is this is not a vessel oil spill. The disbursement and clean-up capabilities are going to require much more collaboration and intricate tactics than those trained professionals such as Freestone possess.
“This is not just a slick, not just a release,” Dr. Brylske reiterated.
Will Miner, professor of Marine Engineering, said the first item of business is to “get a grip” on what is real, and he defined the dispersant being utilized to break up the spill.
The Earth, Miner detailed, could not clean up the over 300,000 gallons of oil leaking into the Gulf every day on her own, and the dispersants are a double edged sword.
“Even without digesting it, it’s dangerous. The chemical is toxic, cancer causing, and host to a multitude of carcinogens,” he explained.
The risk to the Keys is, the dispersant will cause the oil to turn into little balls of tar. Which are deadly to our sea life if digested, and if they reach our mangroves and reef, they will attach to the roots, killing the ecosystem.
According to Captain Pat DeQuattro, Commander of U.S. Coast Guard Sector Key West, “although all the Coast Guard, Key West city officials, U.S. Navy, NOAA, National Park Service, Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Monroe County public health and emergency management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, the City of Marathon, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and Coast Guard Auxiliary responders and planners are not collocated and working beneath one roof, we are working together to share information as we evaluate, adjust and prepare for a potential response to the Deepwater Horizon incident in the Gulf of Mexico.”
On other levels, such as the experts housed at FKCC, Rice and the panel made clear, at this stage, Key West has entered, and is in, the exploration stage of mobilizing volunteers.
“The spill is not affecting the Keys, as of right now,” he told the room. “We will provide the resources to volunteer once instructions flow down from the federal government, the state, the county and then to the local contingencies. We’ve had discussion here about providing the proper training so, anybody who wants to volunteer, anybody who wants to mobilize if we can provide that, then we will so we can ensure the safety of our volunteers.”
Volunteers like Freestone, who are eager to protect the waters which surround his home.
“We live here. We enjoy this paradise and we got in this business to clean up if necessary and respond to catastrophic incidents like this,” Freestone reiterated.
By the numbers:
From the State of Florida Department of Emergency Management
• The release rate from Deepwater Horizon is at 5,000 barrels (210,000 gallons) per day.
• This event has been designated a Spill of National Significance.
• Nearly 6,700 personnel, over 2,500 trained volunteers and close to 300 response vessels are involved in response
• Nearly 1.2 M barrels of oil-water mix have been recovered
• 190,000 gallons of dispersant has been deployed
Specifically in Florida
• 145,000 Containment Boom deployed/20,000 staged in Pensacola
• 45,000 Staged/53,000 on order in Panama City
• 285 British Petroleum (BP) and contract personnel working in Pensacola effort
• BP issues $25 M block grant to FLA being used for booming costs
• An additional unified command planning section is established in the U.S. Coast Guard’s Sector St. Petersburg for the west coast of Florida. A virtual planning section is set up for Sector Key West.
County Mayor Calls for Workshop
Murphy seeks local input regarding oil spill
On Tuesday, May 11, Monroe County officials will meet at the Murray Nelson Government Center in Key Largo to discuss the Gulf Coast oil spill.
“It’s a workshop with everybody, including Irene (Toner), right on down the line,” said Monroe County Mayor Sylvia Murphy.
Earlier this week, Murphy invited her fellow commissioners, the mayors of the municipalities and numerous authorities including South Florida Water Management, U.S. Coast Guard, Aqueduct Authority, DEP, National Marine Sanctuary and Florida Fish and Wildlife. Department heads from the Sheriff’s Office, Public Health, and Fire Department will also be in attendance.
The workshop is open to all residents, but the panel may not take public comments.
Murphy said she is following the spill “real close,” and based on current data, now is not the time to worry.
“It is either going to be that we have a big problem,” said Murphy. “Or that we do not have a problem and this is a damn good emergency exercise.”
The workshop is set for 1 pm on Tuesday, May 11 at the Murray Nelson Government Center (MM 102, Gulf).
County Commissioner Mario Di Gennaro came out to FKCC to say there are a lot of rumors out there, and he’s ready to stop them. The Florida Keys are not at risk, he stressed with gusto.
Kevin Freestone, owner of Lower Keys and Big Pine TowBoat U.S., spoke with Key West City Manager Jim Scholl regarding his Hazmat training and desire to mobilize and protect the waters surrounding the Keys.
Will Miner, professor of Marine Engineering said because of the heavy roll tourism plays in the Keys, the community should be prepared to protect. “What we see could just be the tip of an iceberg. We could have a massive, massive cloud of oil beneath the surface.”
Dr. Patrick Rice spear-headed the forum with FKCC Marine Science Professor Dr. Alex Brylske (serving as an expert in coral reef ecology). Kent Edwards, right, is the Lower Keys Regional Manager with the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.
Counties Declared “A State of Emergency”Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa, Walton, Bay, Gulf, Franklin, Wakulla, Jefferson, Taylor, Dixie, Levy, Citrus, Hernando, Pasco, Pinellas, Hillsborough, Manatee and Sarasota.