Reporting from the Panhandle
EDITOR'S NOTE: Journalists Aaron Hale and Tristan Spinski are in the Panhandle shadowing two Naples fire department employees as they check out the response to the oil spill washing ashore. Watch for their reports all of this week in the Daily News and at naplesnews.com
PENSACOLA — Hoping to skim first-hand information about dealing with the arrival of oil in the Gulf, two Naples fire officials arrived in Pensacola on Tuesday for a three-day fact-finding mission.
Fire Chief Steve McInerny and Pete DiMaria, a battalion chief who leads special operations units with the department, are touring northwest Florida and Alabama beaches, hoping to bring home lessons about protecting Naples’ inlets and shores from oil, just in case the tar balls and oil sheen start washing ashore in Southwest Florida.
McInerny said the idea is to learn by watching.
“We don’t want to re-create the world,” he said. “We can learn from their experiences.”
On their first day, the Naples firefighters looked at operations being run from Santa Rosa Beach by one of BP’s contractors and took an informal tour of Pensacola Beach.
Pensacola and parts of northwest Florida have been experiencing the effects of the Gulf BP oil spill since late June.
Michael Pierce, an employee at a local bagel shop, said the oil has turned parts of the white sandy beaches into the consistency of brown sugar.
“I don’t go there much anymore,” he said.
McInerny said his experience on Tuesday got him thinking about logistical planning in case oil comes to Naples.
McInerny and DiMaria spoke will representatives from Cliff Barry, Inc., an environmental contracting firm handling oil cleanup in the area.
“What I came away with is this is really more of a logistical operation,” McInerny said.
Representatives from Cliff Barry declined to be interviewed, stating that BP has asked them not to talk to media, but McInerny said from his tour of operations, the city should start planning where to place an incident command unit if oil comes to Naples.
Tar balls started washing ashore in Santa Rosa Beach, a small but chic-looking beach town, in late June. Though the beaches have been free of oil debris for several days, BP is keeping an army of workers in the town, examining the shores for evidence of oil.
McInerny estimated there may have been several hundred workers coming in each day.
Those workers have to have access to the beach, to water and to bathrooms, he said.
“I come away with a pretty good sense that they have their act together, the chief said.
In Santa Rosa Beach, workers gather at a private parking lot across the street from a beach access. Large tractors with trailers carry workers across miles of beaches to their designated spots.
DiMaria speculated on where there could be a staging area in Naples to fit dozens of bulldozers and buses to carry workers.
“Maybe Lowdermilk Beach,” DiMaria said.
“That’s one of the things we would need to talk about when we got back,” the chief said.
McInerny said there are aspects of responding to possible oil in Naples that they haven’t even considered yet. They want to create a list of tasks to get the city ready, just in case.
McInerny and DiMaria will report their findings to Naples City Manager Bill Moss.
Although there are no immediate reports of threats to Southwest Florida beaches, McInerny said city officials want a clearer picture of what would work to protect Naples’ natural assets.
Later on their trip, they will meet with Pensacola fire officials and representatives from Crowder Gulf, a contracting firm that’s been handling some of the oil-cleaning efforts.