June 24, 2010
Dear PURRE Members,
Linda Young continues her heartbreaking but informative updates from the shores of Florida’s panhandle, where oil from the Deepwater Horizon has reached their waters and beaches. She tells is like it is, sincerely and simply, giving us a glimpse into what it’s like to wait for the impact and then experience it.
Our hearts and our efforts go out to everyone on the north Gulf Coast. And remember that one of Linda’s goals in writing these updates is “in hopes that it will be helpful to parts of the state that have not been hit by the oil yet but may get it at some future date.”
We all have to be prepared.
Thank you, Linda, for your reports and for all you are doing.
Michael J. Valiquette
A Personal Update on the Oil Disaster, June 24
By Linda Young, Director, Clean Water Network of Florida, Tallahassee
Dear Friends of Florida Waters:
I know these updates get longer and longer, but I get a lot of thank-you’s from many of you, so I’m going to keep trying to share the most pertinent information in hopes that it will be helpful to parts of the state that have not been hit by the oil yet, but may get it at some future date. If you are not interested in this information, then please just delete it. Please feel free to share it far and wide if you think it will interest other people that you know.
The first large waves of oil arrived in Florida yesterday, Wednesday June 23rd. There had been smaller amounts coming ashore here and there, but approximately 9 miles of oil landed on Pensacola Beach in the early hours of yesterday morning. The puddles are about 10 to 12 feet wide and about 2 to 4 inches thick from where I saw them. I have seen nothing on TV or heard anything from friends that would lead me to believe that this is not the case for the whole length of the landing. It is incredibly sickening to see. I sent a message to the Governor’s office last night and asked his aides to congratulate him for finally having proof that our beaches are the best booms that we have in Florida. Yep, they just let that oil roll right in with no attempt to stop it at all. Are you amazed? I am and I see no reason for the state and federal governments to do that, but that’s their strategy . . . To just let it land. I’ll discuss this further in the section below that is labeled LEGAL ACTIONS.
The Governor was here at Pensacola Beach yesterday and said on television that he was asking for some skimmer boats. There are one or two skimmer boats off the shores of Pensacola Beach right now. I have sent an email to his office trying to find out “who” the Governor has asked. No response. I do know that at least 13 countries have offered assistance to us and it has been refused. Here is an excerpt from a news report on this matter:
“In early May, the State Department emailed reporters identifying the 13 entities that had offered the U.S. oil spill assistance. They were the governments of Canada, Croatia, France, Germany, Ireland, Mexico, the Netherlands, Norway, Romania, Republic of Korea, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United Nations.
"These offers include experts in various aspects of oil spill impacts, research and technical expertise, booms, chemical oil dispersants, oil pumps, skimmers, and wildlife treatment," the email from the White House read.
"While there is no need right now that the U.S. cannot meet, the U.S. Coast Guard is assessing these offers of assistance to see if there will be something which we will need in the near future."
I know I’m repeating myself a little, but how is the state and federal government just sitting back and watching oil pour into our passes and blanket our beaches when it could be prevented? The oil has moved at least two miles past the Pensacola pass. There is essentially no way to stop it once you let it get that far. Yesterday I went to Ft Pickens, which is at the west end of Santa Rosa Island and is the mouth of the Pensacola Pass. There are a few booms here and there (the little sausage booms that I spoke of before) and a few barges, but essentially there is no credible effort underway to stop the oil. The only conclusion I can reach is that the state’s attitude is: “BRING IT!!!! We’re just adding up the damages and we’ll send you a bill later.” If I’m wrong, then I hope someone will offer a more logical explanation.
BOOMING – A few days ago I received an email from Thomas J. Campbell, who is the President of Coastal Planning & Engineering, Inc. in Boca Raton. He offered a very succinct explanation about the problem of keeping oil out of inlets and passes. His company has been contracted to work with Okaloosa County and the City of Destin on their local response and has experienced some frustration in coordinating the BP response with the local program. I have been hearing about Okaloosa County and Destin’s frustration with DEP and BP for many weeks and they finally decided to stop waiting for help from these entities and have hired their own help. This is wise and once again, I urge other local governments to do the same. If you are waiting for the state to save you, you will be sorely disappointed.
Mr. Campbell told me that the best scenario is to stop the oil before it gets to the inlet. However, if it gets that far, then the best hope for reducing impacts in the bays is stopping and collecting the oil at the inlets. Unfortunately that is exactly where the expertise is wanting. Boom contractors can’t handle the currents in the inlets and need to be coupled with marine contractors and local experienced captains to pull the booms for installation; that is not happening. If you look at the plans that WRS Compass (the BP-connected consulting firm that DEP has signed a no-bid contract with to help local governments) has developed for local protection plans, they consist largely of a few booms scattered around, INSIDE THE ESTUARIES.
Mr. Campbell explains that generally the boom plans in the inlets should be but are not designed to work in the high currents. The first line of defense in the inlets should be booms that are constructed within the inlet. These booms need to be constructed at mild angles to the current or oil will move right under the boom when the perpendicular current velocities exceed 0.7 knots. Also booms that go straight across the inlet will structurally fail in high currents. For most inlets that means less than 20 degrees to the current . This requires very long booms and wood piles to anchor them (anchors tend to pull the boom under in high current) to keep their shape and divert the oil to inlet beach shorelines where they can be collected and the sand removed and cleaned.
The next line of defense should be booms placed as umbrella systems behind the inlets where the currents drop below below 0.7 knots . These will form collection points for drum skimmers. The Umbrella system should be repeated for maximum effectiveness.
The above information in not known by most governments who are relying on the Area Contingency plans to protect them . They say that they are relying on the experts (BP boom contractors and the Coast Guard) . If you look at these ACP plans they generally are found to lack design and piling in the inlets and often have no umbrella system behind the inlet . The Boom contractors try hard to carry out the plan but often have under powered boats to pull boom which are not capable of operating in the high currents .
It is hard to correct these problems when oil is coming in the inlet . in many cases it is hard to convince the local EOC’s that the ACP needs design and adjustments and more robust implementation strategies before oil is at the door. If you think your local area is in danger, it will behoove you to warn your local government and try to make advance plans that will provide adequate protection for your coastline.
SKIMMER BOATS/SUPER TANKERS – Everyone agrees that skimmer boats are the most effective way to attack the oil. As mentioned above, right now there is one or two skimmer boats offshore from Pensacola beach. I heard last week from Senator Nelson that there were three working in Florida waters. He said that there are 20 more on the way the northern Europe. I was told today by my local government contact that there are 12 skimmer boats sitting idle in Bayou Chico, which is about 20 miles from here in Pensacola. All but two are under the control of the Unified Command (BP and the Coast Guard). The reason that they are not scattered around, skimming up the oil is apparently a coordination problem. Communication between the Unified Command Center in Mobile and the local governments is extremely poor. He told me that a new coordination plan is in the works and that in the next week or two things should improve. As Senator Nelson said very clearly 10 days ago, “there is no clear chain of command.” Also the communication between Unified Command and the contractors is very poor. He said they are trying to put the Coast Guard in command to make things better, but that is difficult to do. Why???? Why is that difficult????
As I said, everyone agrees that we should be trying to get every skimmer boat in the world here and any other technology asap. The oil is not diminishing, in fact it increases from time to time, such as yesterday when they stopped using the cap that was taking some small part of the oil to the surface where it is being burned.
I hope our state and federal governments have not given up on saving the Gulf. If we have any hope of its recovery at some point, then we must do everything in our power to stay on top of the oil and remove as much as possible. Our local governments in the Panhandle are begging for help from the state and they are incredibly frustrated with the little or no help that is forth-coming. The county I live in has 88 miles of shoreline and some of our modest requests from the state have even been denied. We finally got a few more booms approved but are still waiting for money for other protections that we need.
I’m told that two days ago there were 11 vessels working on a large patch of oil straight out from Navarre Beach. This may be why there is no oil here right now and the beaches to the east and west of us are smothered in oil. THERE SHOULD BE AN ARMY OF BOATS, SKIMMERS, BARGES, ETC. out there capturing the oil.
Tonight, 24 miles out from the Pensacola pass there is a large patch of oil. They know it’s there and they could have boats and equipment out there trying to prevent it from coming ashore, but it is doubtful that these preventive measures are in place. The plans that were developed by WRS Compass, with the BP money given to the state of Florida, are worthless. They have already been modified several times and the local governments are hiring their own contractors to get real plans and protections in place. Right now, the whole operation is very much a trial and error situation and local governments are sharing ideas, successes and failures and working together to do the best they can. The money for protection has largely been squandered by our state government and local governments are going out on a limb financially to try and protect their communities. I know this sounds harsh, but I have been talking to numerous local government representatives and they are extremely frustrated with the situation. We didn’t ask for this to happen to us. It would be wonderful if our state government was not so politically driven and dysfunctional.
LEGAL ACTION - As mentioned above, the state’s strategy seems to be to just use our beaches and shores as booms for the incoming oil. This made no sense to me until I got DEP’S response to my 30-day notice letter. In this response letter DEP says, “Since the state and federal response actions will not protect the state from some damage to its natural resources occurring, the Department has been actively preparing its natural resource damage claim that will be pursued against BP . . .” It goes on to say that the DEP is doing extensive sampling along Florida’s coastline to prove damages later. They brag in the letter that “Florida has conducted more baseline sampling than any of the other Gulf Coast states affected by the oil spill.” They seem very proud of the fact that they are working hard to build a damages case to file in court later, but clearly do not plan any legal action against BP until sometime in the future when they “will aggressively pursue BP to compensate the state for those damages.”
So, my guess is that the Governor and Legislature are seeing this whole oil disaster as a wind-fall for our financially strapped state. They are basically just letting the disaster unfold and are already counting the millions of dollars that they will collect down the road. The $75 million that they already got from BP is apparently almost gone or largely not available for local protection efforts.
PLEASE DON’T WAIT for the state to send money or assistance if you live in a coastal county. I am hearing from people further east who say that their neighborhoods are putting plans together with their own money. If this is an option, I would say it is a great idea. Just be sure to get help from an experienced contractor.
A short while ago, I went outside to take my dog for a walk and the air is heavy with the odor of oil. This has become a normal condition and I’m sure it is not healthy. The overall situation is not leveling off, rather it seems to be worsening. I don’t think that any coastal county along the Gulf coast of Florida is safe from eventual contamination. I also don’t know if it makes sense to hope that our state government will figure out what to do to help us. Therefore, our best hope for coping with this disaster is working together on a local level. Please be in touch with your local government and do what you can to help them. It is important to find the most knowledgeable people in your community who know about your inlets, tides, resources, etc. Also, technical people, engineers, scientists who live in your area can be of great help to your local government. These are just suggestions that you may want to consider. The important thing is to use this time wisely and get prepared before the oil reaches you.
For all of Florida’s waters,
Linda Young, Director
Clean Water Network of Florida
PO Box 254, Tallahassee, FL 32302
On the web at www.cleanwaternetwork-fl.org