Special Reports

Manatee team in St. Pete to review contingency plan

MANATEE — A team from Manatee County joined its counterparts from neighboring Hillsborough and Pinellas counties Friday in St. Petersburg to plan protection for ecologically-sensitive areas should pollution from a Gulf oil spill approach local shores.

Officials at St. Pete’s unified command post, led by the U.S. Coast Guard, said they were in the midst of updating each individual county’s area contingency plan, including that of Manatee.

“We’re in the middle of a series of workshops with county emergency management, county environmental protection people, to review the area contingency plans,” said Coast Guard Capt. Tim Close, commander, Sector St. Petersburg, during a conference call.

“Those plans identify environmentally-sensitive areas and also booming strategies, should we need to implement them.”

Officials representing the unified command said the ragged edge of the giant oil slick spewing from the runaway Deepwater Horizon well is more than 300 miles away from the Tampa Bay area, and careful reviews are important, he said.

“We’re taking advantage of this time opportunity we have right now, pre-impact — should there be impact — to sit down with technical folks, and go through those plans, just to see if there’s any additional environmentally-sensitive areas in those plans that we need to add, and to review those booming strategies,” Close said.

Timyn Rice, state onscene coordinator for the command, said officials “are doing everything they can to prepare and respond to the spill if it should head our way.”

Officials are reviewing all of the wildlife resources and habitats to be protected, and are going through each county’s plan page-by-page, Rice said.

Experts from the Coast Guard, NOAA, the federal Department of the Interior, the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, aquatic preserve managers and other scientists are aiding the effort, which is slated to be completed by early next week, Rice said.

The oil has escaped from BP’s well near Louisiana after an explosion and fire there last month.

Also related to the spill, the Gulf Coast Community Foundation of Venice approved Friday a $60,000 grant to help Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota respond to potential impacts, according to a foundation press release.

The grant would be used to help pay for sampling of water, sediments, bottom dwelling organisms and sea grass; mollusk sampling; use of underwater robots to patrol the coast from south Tampa Bay to the Keys for oil; sampling phytoplankton; and creating oil response plans so that the area will be positioned to receive federal or British Petroleum funds.