Levy, Cedar Key prepare for chance of oil

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By Kellie Parkin

 Monday Governor Charlie Crist declared a State of Emergency in Levy and 12 additional counties in response to the to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. So far Crist has declared a State of Emergency in 19 coastal counties along the panhandle and the west coast of Florida.

The oil spill is located approximately 250 miles from Cedar Key and is discharging approximately 210,000 gallons per day.

“By including these counties, it activates the U.S. Coast Guard St. Pete Sector to implement contingency planning,” said Levy County Emergency Manager Mark Johnson.

The Levy Emergency Operations Center has decided not to activate for now, but continues to monitor the oil spill’s progression.

“Due to operational changes in the trajectory of the oil spill, we have decided not to activate the Levy EOC at this time,” Johnson said. “We are ready to go to a Level 2 activation at a moments notice.”

Johnson said the decision came late Wednesday afternoon, after the announcement was made that the EOC would activate earlier that morning.

“We don’t want to wear people out too early,” Johnson said. The Levy EOC will wait to activate until the oil threat reaches a 72-hour window of Levy’s coastline, Johnson said.  

“Declaring a State of Emergency triggers a full-scale operation to meet this threat,” Johnson said.

“The Coast Guard has had these contingency plans in place and they are updated annually for the entire St. Pete Sector – which includes Levy County,” Johnson said. “They are specifically for oil spills and have pre-selected booming areas mapped out.”

Booms, made of tubular links, are floating barriers that corral, redirect, and hold back oil on the water’s surface. “It’s not fail safe, but it can help keep it contained,” Johnson said.

Declaration of emergency status enables the county to work with the Coast Guard and other entities involved to fine-tune contingency plans, he said, making sure Levy’s coastline is prepared for the worst should the need arise.

Johnson said he will collaborate with key individuals who have unique coastal knowledge to determine if current contingency and booming plans are sufficient or if they need to be strengthened. 

“We’ll be working closely with local governments, county officials, and the local aquaculture industry to identify sensitive areas,” Johnson said. “The shellfish industry is one of the top priorities right now as per Secretary Michael Sole with the Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection.”

Cedar Key Mayor Sue Colson said the city is also working on a plan of action. She added that volunteer action will be essential if the oil comes close. People can contact City Hall at 543-5132 to sign up for volunteer groups.

For more information about the Levy County Emergency Operations Center, visit www.levydisaster.com.