Special Reports

Meeting to bring agencies together to discuss oil spill

BRADENTON BEACH — The manager of the Beach House restaurant has been following media reports about the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and wondered what plans government agencies have to deal with the crisis if tar balls wash up on Manatee County beaches.

“Face it, if oil comes here, it’ll be a life changer,” said Mike Shannon, speaking from the beachside eating establishment Tuesday.

Shannon said he knows of various agencies meeting with different groups, but he wanted to get them all in one room to let people know how they were coordinating their plans.

He organized a committee, called Keep OFF Manatee (OFF stands for Oil Free Forever), and has received commitments from several county, state and federal officials to attend a town hall meeting at 7 p.m. June 17 at the Anna Maria Island Community Center, 407 Magnolia Ave., Anna Maria.

“This is so the people of Manatee County can hear what our agencies are doing,” Shannon said, “and so they can hear from the people.”

Ed Chiles, owner of the Beach House and other restaurants on the islands, said he supported Shannon’s efforts and thought it was important for everyone to know what would happen if the oil slick reaches Manatee County.

“What are the strategies? What will happen? This is what the people want to know,” Chiles said.

Much of Manatee County’s economy, especially the barrier islands of Anna Maria and Longboat Key, depends on tourism, he said.

“We need to be prepared,” Chiles said. “Also, this will be an opportunity to find out how people can help.”

County Commissioner Carol Whitmore, a former mayor of Holmes Beach, said she thought having a town hall meeting was a great idea.

“We watch TV and everyone is doing something,” Whitmore said, “but it doesn’t look like it’s coordinated.”

This would be an opportunity for all the different agencies to tell the public what they are doing, she said.

“I hope we don’t need to do anything,” the commissioner and life-long island resident said, “but we want to get everyone in the same room.”

That was Shannon’s game plan, he said.

“This will be an opportunity to get the people of Manatee involved,” Shannon said.

He hopes to have officials from the Coast Guard, county Emergency Management, county Natural Resources Department, the Chamber of Commerce, the Tourist Development Council and other agencies at the meeting.

“I hope three months from now we see this as a well-intentioned experience,” Shannon said, “but if it does come we want Manatee County to be recognized as the most prepared in the impact zone.”

For more information, e-mail Shannon at shnnn613@cs.com.