Coast Guard holds secret meeting with environmental groups

05/04/10 Kate Bradshaw
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The oil slick out in the Gulf may be more than 200 miles from Tampa Bay, but some groups say it’s never to early to be prepared. Today in St. Petersburg the US Coast Guard held a closed-door meeting on how to respond if oil were to reach bay area beaches. Afterward, WMNF talked with several activists, who say that despite the secretive nature of the meeting, the main message was preparedness.

Since the April 20 rig explosion and subsequent oil leak, the flow of information has been heavily controlled. The Coast Guard, BP, and various agencies hold press conferences almost daily, giving vague answers to questions on the leak’s potential hazardous effects. Environmental activist Lorraine Margeson said today’s meeting with the Coast Guard was different.

WMNF tried to access the St. Petersburg meeting, but was politely turned away by a Coast Guard officer, who said a press conference on local oil spill response efforts would take place within a day. Margeson said the meeting’s restricted access didn’t seem to her like an attempt to control information.

Authorities expect the oil slick, which looms along the northern Gulf Coast, to get picked up in the Gulf’s loop current, then sucked down through the Keys and up the Atlantic Coast. Margeson said she learned today that while Tampa Bay’s beaches aren’t in the slick’s direct path, they aren’t exactly off the hook, either.

The tar balls she mentioned are a result of oil sitting out in the water for extended periods of time. Dave Kandz, Conservation Chair of the St. Pete Audubon Society, said these might cause quite a headache in the near future.

He said that weathered oil isn’t just an unattractive nuisance.

BP has so far been unsuccessful at capping the well that reportedly gushes around two hundred ten thousand gallons of oil a day nearly from a mile below sea level. Kathy Harrelson of Suncoast Sierra Club and Hands across the Sand said if the leak continues much longer, the Pinellas beaches may be in for years of toxic consequence.

Margeson said that the Coast Guard will be ready with five miles of oil boom, which has been deployed in other parts of the Gulf to keep oil at bay with little success. She said that five miles is not nearly enough, and that boom catches surface slicks. This, Margeson said, would do nothing to catch the weathered oil, which floats underwater. Sierra Club’s Kathy Harrelson said the best way to fend off potential oil-related havoc is to pool resources.

BP may have vowed to pay for the mess, including any cleanup efforts in Tampa Bay, but Audubon’s Dave Cans said he’s not exactly optimistic that the oil giant will come through.

He said there are several organizations where people can volunteer.

Margeson said that unlike communities on the Gulf’s northern coast, those on the Suncoast who are responding to the spill have the luxury of time to prepare.

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