Pensacola closes marina as oil breaches bay

Friday, June 11, 2010
By Paul Martin

Paul Flemming
June 11, 2010

PENSACOLA – Oiled seaweed, sheen and large, orange blobs of oil have been spotted inside Pensacola Bay.

Skimmers are at work. Cleanup boats have moved into position at Fort Pickens.

The oil is heading toward the north shore of Fort Pickens.

From an airplane, a News Journal reporter and photographer can see orange matts about 50 to 100 yards offshore in the Gulf of Mexico off the southwest tip of Fort Pickens.

Sheen, smaller tarmats and extensive booming operations are visible on the north side of Fort Pickens.

Escambia County officials have kicked in their booming plan inside the bay to protect sensitive environmental areas.

Later today, Pensacola Marina will be closed.

Pensacola Pass — the gateway to Escambia and Pensacola bays and a key line of defense against oil affecting fragile environmental areas — remains open.

Shortly before noon, several sections of boom had been deployed. They are being dragged across the water in sections, not one large piece of boom. The sections are positioned hundreds of yards from each other.

Also, a section of the beach at Fort Pickens has been surrounded by boom.

About noon, Zachary Kaupp went fishing and wound up with oil on his bobber. The boy is visiting from New Orleans. He stopped fishing as did two other anglers nearby.

On Wednesday, county officials were outraged when word of tar balls and sheen passing through Perdido Pass were not passed along by the Unified Command for spill response in Mobile.

Though the county’s plan to place boom across Pensacola Pass has been approved, it requires the approval of the Coast Guard’s captain of the port at Unified Command.

“There are some trigger points that have to be reached. It was my understanding that the oil in the pass was collectible and the skimmer boats, there were two NAS vessels, are working,” Pensacola Mayor Mike Wiggins said. “I certainly believe there are enough eyes on that pass now we will know exactly what’s happening.”

Wiggins expressed concern that a repeat of Wednesday’s communications failures could repeat, but said he hoped the experience would improve the process.

Reports on state tracking websites indicate oil and sheen present inside Pensacola Bay.

“Light sheen running from Pensacola Pass to Bob Sikes Bridge. Small tar balls at 30.3345/-87.2920. Quarter sized. No skimming operation in bay,” one report reads.

A photo accompanies the online report that shows a rainbow sheen in the water.

Another report posted Thursday morning said “sargassum weed line with sheen visable inside of Escambia Bay. Clean up needed.”

Two Santa Rosa County employees were among those on a boat doing reconnaissance about a half mile outside of the Pensacola Pass this morning, including Public Services director Tony Gomillion.

“We didn’t see anything on our visit, which was a relatively short visit,” Gomillion said at this morning’s commission meeting shortly after 9 a.m. “Since that time, there is a boat that is reporting some grass with tar balls in the it near the Coast Guard station.”

Commission Chairman Gordon Goodin said he hopes there is not a repeat of what happened in Perdido Pass on Wednesday, when tar infiltrated Perdido Bay.

“At least in this case, the boom is deployed — or partially deployed,” Goodin said.

Boom, however, will be off limited value, Gomillion said.

“The boom is a protective piece, (but) the current can be quite swift in the pass,” Gomillion said. “The skimmers are the piece we need to push for and to protect our shores.”

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