The end: Let voters cap Gulf oil issue
Nature leader favors 2 for Collier board
Coverage: Gulf Coast Oil Spill
Solons say it will do greater damage than the Exxon Valdez. Fishermen call it more disastrous than Hurricane Katrina, and environmentalists herald it as the worst catastrophe of the century.
The oil spill from the sunken Deepwater Horizon oil rig — still growing and now bigger than the state of Delaware — could threaten Collier County’s shores.
No one knows when oil will stop spewing from the depths and no one is willing to predict where the oil will land and do its greatest damage.
“Collier County is 800 miles from the spill, there’s a lot of Gulf between us and the spill,” said Dan Summers during a special presentation to Marco Island’s City Council on Monday. “But even a low probability puts us in high vulnerability.”
Summers is director of Collier County’s emergency services.
“At the moment, there is no triggering event that would mobilize (Collier County) emergency services,” Summers said. “We won’t play games here. If we have wind patterns that are not in our favor, we will not hesitate to act.”
Currently, the leading edge of preparations in Florida is Pensacola, he said.
Summers praised the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s real-time evaluations of the spill and its aid in projecting the spill’s movement in the Gulf of Mexico. NOAA also is monitoring the loop current that could pull the spill around the west coast of Florida and through the Florida Straits.
“With Mother Nature we don’t know what to expect, but NOAA’s done a tremendous job mapping the spill to mitigate challenges with this event.”
One of those challenges is determining the nature of materials that might impact local waters and the island’s shoreline.
“We don’t know the properties of what we might receive from this,” said Summers. As mitigation proceeds and Gulf waters interact with the oil, the spill’s makeup may change further frustrating cleanup requirements.
Summers promised full and swift action if Collier County is threatened.
“The Collier County Emergency Operation Center could go to 24 hours with a 12-hour battle rhythm,” he said. “We would expedite work out to the affected area, pay attention to financial implications and keep a close eye on environmentally sensitive areas.”
The ‘ifs’ are what worry most residents.
Paul Freeman of Sunset Grill, a neighborhood restaurant and bar on Marco’s south beach, was distressed about the spill’s potential impact.
“If the spill comes here, it would effectively close us down,” he said of Marco Island’s recovering tourist industry, “and forget about Gulf shrimp. We won’t see that for 10 years.”
He was angry that the poorest parts of the Gulf will see destruction first.
“This nation can’t expect Gulf coast states to bear the brunt of its oil addiction,” he said. And Freeman worried that new legislation to increase the number of oil rigs in the Gulf could spell disaster.
“An oil rig is not an oil slick, but it’s a slippery slope,” he said.
Neil Kelly, a Marco Islander who visits the beach most days, is thankful any spill damage would happen out of tourist season.
“If beaches were impacted, I would just stay at my condo and use the pool,” he said.
Jim and Patricia Geary, visiting from Canada, expressed empathy for the U.S.
“This is a blow to the U.S. economy and it doesn’t need any more,” Jim Geary said. “I hate to see what will happen to these beautiful beaches.”
“I feel for the people who will lose their livelihood,” said Patricia Geary. “It’s kind of sad.”
Tom Manfre, a resident of the Princess condominium, felt the spill would change life as it is on Marco.
“We’d all quickly become volunteers rather than tourists or just people who live here,” he said.
Friends of Tigertail’s Debbie Roddy warned that volunteers would be needed if the spill disaster reached Collier County’s shores.
“If efforts to stop this spill fail and it continues to drift toward us and along the peninsula, it could harm birds, sea grass beds, coastal marshes, and eventually the mangrove islands off the Florida Keys,” she wrote in an e-mail.
“So if you are interested in helping rescue Florida’s coastal birds and other wildlife, your name, address, telephone and email address need to be listed in the volunteer registry,” she suggested.
Those wishing to volunteer can register at audubon.org, and click on “Gulf Coast Disaster,” then “Volunteer.”