Special Reports

Officials: Florida is prepared, but oil spill remains 400 miles away

ST PETE BEACH — Amid pleas to better organize volunteers and to emphasize that Florida’s beaches are clean and its fishing so far unaffected by a giant Gulf oil spill, state officials said Wednesday that they are ready if the oil comes our way.

At a meeting here of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, chairman Rodney Barreto said he was confident that everything was being done that could be done to prepare for what may lay ahead. He said the spill remained 400 miles or so from Florida’s west coast.

After studying winds and currents, scientists are not expecting much to change in the next seven days, Barreto said.

Capt. Tim Close, commander of U.S. Coast Guard Sector St. Petersburg, said that tar balls found off Key West were not related to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill that began last month after a fire and explosion at BP’s drilling rig off Louisiana.

“Locally, we haven’t seen any impact to any coast on the west coast of Florida,” he said. “The likelihood remains low we’ll be impacted” along the 400 miles that make up the Coast Guard Sector St. Pete, stretching from Taylor County to Collier County, he said.

Among those testifying after the commission’s official briefing at the TradeWinds resort were operators of various seabird sanctuaries and rescue groups. They pleaded for better information for and coordination of volunteers.

Capt. Pat Kelly of the Florida Guides Association faulted members of the media for what he said had been sensational reporting that seemed to gloss over the fact that Florida so far has not been hit by oil.

He told the commission that Florida is “the fishing capital of the world,” and noted that the tourism that comes from such enterprises puts groceries on the table of everyone in the state.

“I call the press to deal in facts, and not fiction,” he said.

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at (941) 745-7031.

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