July 25, 2008

Officials at Bolinas Lagoon Prepare for Next Oil Spill

By Jennifer Upshaw, The Marin Independent Journal, Novato, Calif.

Jul. 24--Trainees from two-dozen federal, state and local agencies converged Thursday at the mouth of Bolinas Lagoon to test oil spill skills as they prepared for the next disaster.

The emergency response drill coordinated by the Marin County Parks and Open Space Department capped several days of classroom training aimed at preparing participants for a spill.

"This is the process having evolved from the lessons that we've learned from the Cosco Busan oil spill," Marin County Supervisor Susan Adams said. "The Bolinas Lagoon was particularly challenging," she noted of fruitless efforts to block oil from entering the lagoon last year. "Now we're testing some different models under safer conditions to see what works and what doesn't work.

"This is a national treasure, and oil would very quickly turn it into a national disaster. We need to be prepared to protect it."

In November 2007, a toxic oil slick that stretched from San Francisco to Sonoma County fouled the Marin coast. The container ship the Cosco Busan spewed 58,000 gallons of bunker fuel oil when it crashed into a section of the Bay Bridge on Nov. 7.

Only 20 percent of the oil was collected, and some oil remains in the area, affecting small crustaceans, worms, fly larvae and other species. Marin's shores host invertebrates, clams and other creatures on which birds feast during migration.

Thursday's mission to practice boom deployment was part of a scheme to develop a plan for the lagoon that is expected to be

incorporated into the San Francisco Bay Oil Spill Area Contingency Plan, officials said.

Local agencies enlisted the help of New Mexico-based environmental management group Dowcar, a consultancy that specializes in swift water oil spill containment.

Oil threatened the lagoon after the Cosco Busan accident. The community rallied in a bid to protect it, but struggled with the booms that broke thanks to the mouth's fast-moving water.

The current at the mouth of the lagoon moves at about 7 knots, or about 8 mph, said Steve Edinger, assistant director of the state Department of Fish and Game's Office of Spill Prevention and Response.

Speeds over 1 knot will challenge conventional deployment of containment booms, he said, as they break or oil slides underneath them.

On Thursday, participants practiced anchoring booms in shorter sections rather than in one long piece and at an angle. The effort at the mouth continued to prove challenging, officials said. Late Thursday afternoon, trainees made a second attempt to deploy the oil-skimming booms deeper inside the lagoon where waters are calmer, said Chris Godley of the Marin County Sheriff's Office of Emergency Services.

"You're not necessarily fighting Mother Nature, but you are looking at attempting to influence her," he said. "This is one of the most difficult locations in the San Francisco Bay Area."

Training the locals to work with spill experts is key, Fish and Game's Edinger said.

"We know spill response and they know their lagoon," he said. "We're combining (efforts) for the next event."

Bolinas fire Chief Anita Brown agreed. Last year, the fire department tried to help, but didn't have the expertise, training or resources to get the job done, she said.

"After two days of training I feel we are much better prepared," she said. "After going through this training I realized we were doomed from the beginning" after the Cosco Busan spill.

The exercise caught the attention of locals and visitors such as Greg and Ann Timm, vacationers from Pescadero who wandered by the beach to check out the action.

"It's really good," said Ann Timm, saying she believed the Cosco Busan spill could have been handled better. "I feel they didn't really know quite how to handle it, and they didn't take advantage of all the people who could have been trained."

"To know ahead of time would be good," her husband agreed.

Read more West Marin stories at the IJ's West Marin section.

Contact Jennifer Upshaw via e-mail at [email protected]


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