County, Sebastian leaders eyeing Gulf oil spill

INDIAN RIVER COUNTY – County Commissioners and Sebastian city leaders have wary eyes trained on the Gulf of Mexico as oil continues to spew into the waters and threaten the shorelines.

While projections currently show the oil is well off the west coast of Florida, officials on the east side of state are on alert, considering what would need to be done if the spill were to loop around the state and come up the east side.

County Emergency Services Director John King has been tasked with giving weekly updates on the spill to commissioners at their regular board meetings. He and other officials from coastal counties are also meeting regularly to discuss the current status of the Deepwater Horizon’s spill.

He told commissioners recently that the counties are coordinating as though they were dealing with a hurricane.

In Sebastian, City Councilwoman Andrea Coy addressed the public during the council’s regular meeting, expressing her concern over the oil spill’s impact to the environment.

Sebastian City Manager Al Minner said the city’s local fishermen have been briefed on the spill and could be tapped to help with cleanup efforts in the Gulf of Mexico.

So far, neither they nor the city has been tapped, he said.

The oil spill, which occurred when an oilrig exploded off the coast of Louisiana on April 20, is spewing approximately 5,000 barrels of oil daily into the Gulf’s waters, according to BP.

However, recent national media outlets are reporting that a researcher from Purdue University estimates the spill to be closer to 70,000 barrels daily.

Given the 5,000-barrel estimate, more than 5 million gallons of oil have been released into the water.

To date, weather and wave conditions have kept the oil slick pinned in the northern part of the Gulf of Mexico, away from the loop current that could transport the oil around the tip of Florida, through the Florida Keys and north along the east coast.

Currently, the oil spill is approximately 80 miles southwest of Pensacola and 317 miles away from St. Petersburg.

King told commissioners Tuesday that approximately 27 miles of oil containment boom has been either placed along Florida’s panhandle or has been staged for eventual placement should the weather and waves shift, bringing the oil spill to Florida’s shore.

“While Florida’s beaches have not yet been impacted by this destructive spill, the many images of oil spilling into the Gulf of Mexico have given potential visitors false information and, therefore, negatively impacted Florida businesses,” Governor Crist said in a recent statement.

He added that it is important for the public to know that Florida’s beaches are open and ready for visitors.

Indian River County has not been directly touched by the oil as of yet. However, it has been impacted.

The first two oiled birds caught off the coast of Louisiana, cleaned up and rehabilitated were released into the Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge earlier this week. The refuge might become the place to call home for other birds caught in the oil spill.

Anyone wanting more information about the Deepwater Horizon oil spill can visit the Department of Environmental Protection’s Florida Web site, www.dep.state.fl.us/deepwaterhorizon or call (888) 337-3569 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily.

Those wishing to register as a volunteer to assist in cleanup efforts should visit Volunteer Florida’s site, www.VolunteerFloridaDisaster.org.

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