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MARIN COUNTY'S NEWS MONTHLY - FREE PRESS
(415)868-1600 - (415)868-0502(fax) - P.O. Box 31, Bolinas, CA, 94924

December, 2007



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Oil Spill Fiasco Is A Wakeup Call
By Don Deane

A mysterious left hand turn instead of right by the 902-foot Cosco Busan caused the largest oil spill in twenty years on Nov. 7 in the San Francisco Bay. The container vessel hit the delta tower of the San Francisco Oakland Bay Bridge.
Bay pilot John J. Cota initially described the collision with the bridge as a "touching" of the tower by the 65,131-ton ship. Ship personnel said a 148-gallon bunker oil spill resulted.

Twelve hours later, long after containment was possible, the initial report was corrected to 58,000 gallons and the "touching" had caused a 4-foot deep, 160 long gash in the side of the ship where the fuel tanks were located. The incident was the first time in the bridge's 74-year history that it was struck by a ship.

Containment is crucial in the first hour or two of a spill as it spreads exponentially.

Coast Guard officials said the collision was "due to human error." It produced the worst oil incident in the San Francisco Bay since 1971 when a 900,000-gallon spill resulted from the collision of two tankers near the Golden Gate Bridge.

The Cosco Busan 58,000 gallon spill contaminated some 40 miles of beaches in the bay and on the Pacific coast.

But the unexplained cause of the collision and the inaccurate report on the size of the spill resulting in the failure to contain the oil was just the beginning of a fiasco and a wakeup call for the entire Bay Area and Pacific coast.

The initial response by the O'Brien Group-a private corporation under contract with the shipping industry to deal with oil spills-was badly lacking in response time, equipment and personnel.

As a result, initial efforts at containment and cleanup became a travesty.

The O'Brien Group directed the response strategy, 350 managers and 1,500 workers-many from out of state. The cleanup reportedly cost $2.5 million per day.

But in the first few critical days, local volunteers in communities large and small were turned away from cleaning up their beaches and birds due to a lack of training, but the there was little evidence of trained cleanup workers from the O'Brien Group anywhere.

Four-hour trainings were available in San Francisco a week after the spill. Some officials referred to 40 hour training sessions.

Oil containment booms were not placed around sensitive areas and in the case of the Bolinas Lagoon the booms were the wrong kind (slow water vs. swift water), and reportedly rotten.

Senator Dianne Feinstein complained that spill plans weren't followed and answers were not being provided.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Coast Guard emphasis has shifted from environmental and safety issues towards port and coastal protection. Last March a department was disbanded which focused on oil-spill response exercises, assigning more personnel to Home Security.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle on November 27, 2,150 birds were found dead or dying at the bird rescue center and biologists say more than 20,000 may have died.

Local residents of Stinson Beach and Bolinas have concluded that to avoid much more deadly and devastating fiascos in the future under the direction of federal agencies and contractors, the following must take place:

Local communities under the direction of local fire departments and oil-spill consultants should arrange for ongoing training and drilling before the next spill. Local volunteers should be recruited for training.

Local communities should be prepared with stockpiled and rotated cleanup supplies and equipment for quick response.

Special equipment such as booms should be stored locally with annual or semi-annual deployment drills taking place by local volunteers.



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