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Sarasota Thursday, Jun. 17, 2010 7 years ago

Let the Panhandle be a lesson


Area government officials, take heed. Be forewarned.

If local government officials haven’t tuned in to what occurred Monday in Destin and Okaloosa County, they better get on Google and on the phones and start researching. Be ready.

By now, we’re guessing, word has spread that Florida residents in the Panhandle areas of Destin, east of Pensacola, decided they weren’t going to put up with federal and state bureaucracies in the oil cleanup. As reported in the Destin Log Monday:

“County commissioners voted unanimously to give their emergency management team the power to take whatever action it deems necessary to prevent oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill from entering Choctawhatchee Bay through the East Pass.

“That means the team, led by Public Safety Director Dino Villani, can take whatever action it sees fit to protect the pass without having its plans approved by state or federal authorities.

“Commission Chairman Wayne Harris said he and his fellow commissioners made their unanimous decision knowing full well they could be prosecuted for it.

“‘We made the decision legislatively to break the laws if necessary. We will do whatever it takes to protect our county’s waterways, and we’re prepared to go to jail to do it,” he said.

“Commissioners gave him the go-ahead to spend $200,000 to pay for an underwater ‘air curtain’ designed to push oil up where it can be collected and $16,500 a day to operate and maintain it.

“He has authority to, without a nod from the U.S. Coast Guard, deploy barges, weighted so that they’ll sit low in the water across the entrance to the pass. He is also authorized to look into a slip curtain, another underwater oil-catching device.”

Here’s a great part to the story: Public reaction in the county has been overwhelmingly supportive. As the Log reported:

“Everybody’s been saying, ‘Congratulations,’ ‘you go,’ ‘we’ll stand there with you, ‘if you go to jail we’ll get you out,’ ‘don’t worry about it,’ ” said commission Chairman Harris. “It’s been a phenomenal outpouring.”

Okaloosa officials took matters into their own hands after they were unable to work through proper federal and state government channels, the Log said. Destin Mayor Sam Seevers was quoted saying, “The issues have to bounce off of six other DEP (Department of Environmental Protection) jurisdictions before something can be done.”

Increasingly, public reaction is becoming similar to that in Okaloosa County. Down in Miami-Dade County, residents attending a Sierra Club meeting with the county’s emergency response director expressed their concern that only contractors hired by the state would handle clean-up efforts there. And of course, in Louisiana, Gov. Bobby Jindal is also ready to take the Okaloosa County route. He has been trying to get a permit to build a sand wall eight miles into the Gulf of Mexico to protect the state’s barrier islands. Frustrated with delays, Jindal said Tuesday he’ll build the walls even if it sends him to jail.

The federal bureaucratic tar ball is huge. We heard a report from three Sarasotans who traveled three weeks ago to Louisiana to investigate using their skimmer boat in the cleanup effort. But when they learned that cleanup coordinators would allow only boat captains with Louisiana boat licenses to participate, they headed back home. They reported seeing numerous boats and boat captains standing by, waiting for government and British Petroleum officials to figure out how to deploy them.

All of this should be an education for government officials here in Sarasota and Manatee counties. Even though the oil spill still is 250 miles west of St. Petersburg, we should have scouting teams in the Panhandle watching, taking notes and learning what to do and not to do.

No one should be surprised one bit at these reports of bureaucratic bungling. Only the U.S. military is capable of operating halfway effectively with a Central Command — and even then military officers on the ground will tell you they can’t depend on Central Command to make them successful. Marine Corps officers, for instance, are trained to make big decisions — quickly — in the midst of chaos.

What’s more, we all know that tired but wise truism: The best government always occurs at the local level.
To that end, we would encourage the government leaders in Sarasota and Manatee counties, the Anna Maria Island municipalities, Longboat Key and Venice to practice what they preach to their residents when the Gulf waters start churning with signs of an oncoming hurricane: Be prepared.

The residents of Sarasota and Manatee counties are almost maniacal about their love for the beaches and coastal waters. You can be sure that if there are any signs of bureaucratic delays or bungling they won’t hesitate to take matters into their own hands. And, by gosh, we would urge them on.

Preventing Deepwater Horizon oil from devastating Florida’s beaches will become the defining legacy for Gov. Charlie Crist’s term. To that end, Crist has been active and visible. But here’s what Floridians want, or, more specifically, what they don’t want: They don’t want what they’re seeing in the Panhandle — oil coming ashore. Crist needs to show tangible evidence to Floridians that he can do what others so far have not: Prove that government leaders can do what they always profess — lead effectively.

The following was issued Tuesday by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection:

• Reconnaissance missions are ongoing. On June 14, as of noon, light sheen, streamers of weathered oil and tar balls were detected within five miles of Pensacola Pass.

• Dime-size to five inch-size tar balls and tar patties were found in widely scattered areas of Northwest Florida.

• Perdido Pass and Pensacola Pass are being closed with the tide to prevent oil from entering inland waters. Booms will be deployed across each pass at flood tide (incoming) and removed at ebb tide (outgoing).

• Oil containment boom deployed in Florida: 372,660 feet.

• 363 vessels are registered in Florida for the Vessels of Opportunity program; 275 Qualified Community Responders are actively working the cleanup efforts in the Florida Panhandle.

• According to NOAA, the oil plume remains 240 miles from St. Petersburg, with non-contiguous sheens and scattered tar balls closer. Coastal regions near and west of Destin may experience shoreline impacts by Thursday, though the NOAA uncertainty line extends east to Bay County.

• Scattered patches of sheen and tar balls remain in the Loop Current Ring. There is evidence that the Loop Current Ring has detached from the Loop Current, meaning that any scattered patches of sheen and tar balls will likely remain in the Loop Current Ring.

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