Special Reports

New nonprofit hopes to give training for oil spill cleaning

MANATEE — Denise Kleiner, the founder of the Old Braden River Historical Society, has launched another nonprofit organization, this one to train people to clean parts of the Florida coast fouled by the Gulf oil spill.

The new organization, Florida Coastline Organization Inc., has already raised money from private sponsors, and is planning to offer training sessions in places like Fort Myers Beach and the City of Apalachicola, according to Kleiner, who resides now in the Fort Myers area.

Its directors, some of whom are well-known musicians, hope to recruit bands for an as-yet unscheduled concert in Miami to raise money for the new organization.

Kleiner said she is concerned that current cleanup plans will not be sufficient, and hopes to harness the energy and concern of the state’s inhabitants to tend to damaged shoreline and distressed wildlife.

“Once we’re established, we’ll be all over Florida — Key Largo and Bradenton, after Fort Myers,” Kleiner said.

So far, most of the state’s coastline remains oil-free, including Fort Myers and Bradenton, but parts of the state’s Panhandle have been blackened with oil from the spill, which began April 20 with a fire and explosion at a BP well off Louisiana.

In the Panhandle, Van Johnson, the mayor of Apalachicola, said he hoped to arrange classes through the organization for the city’s public employees, such as police officers and firefighters, who now are frustrated because they lack the credentials to help with any cleanup.

They don’t want to just sit and watch the disaster despoil the area, the mayor said.

The classes would provide actual Hazmat training, and students would be certified to handle toxic debris, in accordance with rules set by the U.S. Coast Guard Unified Command, Johnson said.

The Unified Command, composed of Coast Guard, BP and federal and state officials, has stated firmly that the cleanup will be handled by professional firms supervising only those with proper credentials to remove oil, which is hazardous to handle.

“We are interested in training staff people, firemen, police, law enforcement to help respond in the event — I hope it doesn’t happen — if this stuff should wash up on our shores,” Johnson said Friday.

“The government won’t allow them to participate unless they have this training — we’re going to be part of the cleanup,” said Johnson.

Asked when the training might take place, he replied, “It’s going to have to be pretty soon — we’re under the gun. We don’t know whether it’s going to come in today or tomorrow.”

Kleiner, a stockbroker who resided along the Braden River, is the founder of the Old Braden River Historical Society, a group dedicated to protecting the river’s lush flora, fauna and historical sites.

Among board members of her new venture are concert promoter and producer Barry Newman, of Naples; and Redington Beach’s Charlie Souza, a musician who has performed with such musical greats as Tom Petty and Gregg Allman, and is now touring with Rock and Roll Hall of Famers Dino Danelli and Gene Cornish.

Also serving on the board is Charles Ball, a Sarasota attorney who plans to help with legal work, he said.

The group is canvassing musicians and recording artists, asking if they would be willing to perform at an as-yet unscheduled benefit concert to be held in Miami, Kleiner and Souza explained.

“We’ll train scuba divers in the Keys, we’re going to clean the reef,” said Kleiner. “That’s why we’re going to need Jimmy Buffett.”

The money raised would be used to train ordinary citizens who would help with a cleanup if needed at various locations along the state’s coasts, including Manatee County, Kleiner said.

The organization is asking the town of Fort Myers Beach for space to hold classes, said Cathie Lewis, public works director, who added that her entire staff would participate if the town council agrees to the plan.

Souza even wrote a song about what Floridians are facing, titled, “In the Gulf of Mexico.”

“This new song, which has taken shape, is helping us through this dark night, and I hope it will help others to feel better as well as we all struggle to find a way to heal by doing something positive about this unbelievable event in the Gulf of Mexico,” Souza said.

“Our nonprofit organization, Florida Coastline, is the tool we have chosen to use to help motivate people to donate to the cause to fund saving our precious wildlife.”

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