Special Reports

Manatee plans to launch oil spill hotline June 15

MANATEE — Manatee County emergency officials Tuesday announced they plan to launch a local “oil spill hot line” June 15.

Once it is activated, the hot line, (941) 749-3547, will be manned by a live person who will dispatch a local team to investigate what callers are reporting, said Charlie Hunsicker, director of the county Department of Natural Resources and the local incident commander should oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill stain the area.

“Please, on this oil spill, stay vigilant, and don’t hesitate to report back to us what you see, to the oil spill hot line,” Hunsicker told representatives of 15 environmental groups at a briefing at the Emergency Operations Center.

Although officials do not expect any oil here in the next 72 hours, part of the massive spill may eventually wash up on Manatee’s pristine beaches and waterways, they said.

They hoped the hot line would provide a quick and efficient way for residents to report what they see.

And although some difficult technical issues did have to be resolved, the hardest part of the endeavor so far has been arranging what happens after the call is made, said Public Safety Director Bill Hutchison.

A trained team must be available to go out to the shore and discern the difference between a tar ball, for instance, and a what might look like a tar ball but isn’t, he said.

Once the sighting has been verified, if it is oil, the U.S. Coast Guard unified command in St. Petersburg, which is charged with handling the spill, would take over with protective measures, said Hunsicker.

In the meantime, vessels from the U.S. Coast Guard; the state Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium are monitoring the area, Laurie Feagans, emergency management chief, told the group of 42 people.

“Your local volunteers will be our eyes for us,” she said of the hot line.