Special Reports

Manatee County Commission to get oil spill briefing today

MANATEE — Manatee County officials have slated a briefing for county commissioners today to update them on the latest information about the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, now threatening Florida’s coast.

The commission had already slated a workshop for today, and emergency management officials, fresh from a meeting with the U.S. Coast Guard in St. Petersburg, will be addressing commissioners in conjunction with their previously-scheduled meeting, officials said.

Manatee County is still in a “monitoring” mode and has not yet activated its all-purpose emergency plan, which can be tailored to any type of disaster, said Capt. Larry Leinhauser, public information officer for the Manatee County Department of Public Safety.

“Obviously, as things change, we’ll adjust things accordingly,” said Leinhauser earlier today. “We’re ready to act if we need to act, but at this point, we’re still monitoring.”

In Sarasota County, officials have slated a 3 p.m. emergency meeting today.

In Tallahassee, Gov. Charlie Crist confirmed the announcement by Doug Suttles, chief executive officer at BP, which operated the drilling rig and well in the gulf from whence the oil is leaking, that Florida will receive a $25 million block grant for the state and local preparation and response costs related to the oil spill.

“We will use the block grant from BP to take proactive measures to help prevent the devastating impacts of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill,” the governor said. “We will continue to be vigilant and take every possible action to protect our beaches and the health and well-being of our residents and visitors.”

MEanwhile, Rocco Calaci, a Florida meteorologist who tracks coastal weather, says in a forecast e-mail this morning that wind is steering a Gulf oil slick slightly eastward today, but the slick should remain fairly stationary on Wednesday.

As winds shift to the north along the Mississippi and Louisiana coasts, and southwest from Alabama through the Florida coastline, he said, the slick will move more toward Alabama and Florida. Forecasted sea swells are still going to move from the south towards shore from Mississippi to Florida, he said.

Wednesday, Calaci expects the oil spill to be “somewhat stationary,” with a cold front slowing in the Gulf and winds parallel to the slick. The oil, he said, could extend further eastward at 30 to 50 miles from shore.

“By the end of the week,” he said, “winds along the northern Gulf Coast will become southerly and the oil slick should make a more pronounced movement towards beaches from Louisiana to Florida.

“There is a distinct possibility of the slick being stretched west to east as winds become easterly from New Orleans to Cameron Louisiana and westerly from Bay St. Louis towards Panama City Florida,” Calaci said. “Throughout this period, wind speeds are expected to be favorable for clean-up efforts near and over the oil spill location.”

In other developments, disaster responders will try to burn off oil today in the Gulf, U.S. Rep. Gene Taylor said this morning.

Taylor was briefed by Coast Guard Capt. Ed Stanton, who is running disaster operations and happens to be from Waveland.

Recovery vessels were preparing to resume skimming oil gushing from the collapsed Deepwater Horizon oil rig because the weather has settled down.

“The skimmers will contain the oil in concentrations great enough that they will be able to burn it,” Taylor said. He said spraying of dispersants from the air also will resume.

Crews are stationed at Chandeleur Island, he said, in case the oil moves ashore. If need be, Taylor said, oil could be burned from island marshes.

Taylor said he has a great deal of confidence in Stanton. They met after Katrina. Stanton asked Taylor if he had lost his house. Taylor said he had, then asked Stanton how he had fared. Taylor recalled Stanton’s response: “I lost my house, too. Let’s go to work.”

The (Biloxi, Miss.) Sun-Herald contributed to this report. Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at (941) 745-7031.