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Jun 15, 2010 6:28 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

East Hampton makes preparations for potential impact from gulf oil spill

Jun 15, 2010 6:28 PM

As the oil from the Deepwater Horizon well continues to spew into the Gulf of Mexico at estimated rates that continue to balloon, many people who live closely in tune with the coastline of Long Island worry about what effect the oil will have on the coastline here.

East Hampton has suffered a small share of oil spills in the past. Town Natural Resources Director Larry Penny remembers a time in the early 1980s when the Coast Guard placed an oil containment boom across the mouth of Lake Montauk to prevent a small oil spill from entering the sensitive estuary, and New York State Department of Environmental Conservation scientists remember picking up tar balls along the ocean shorefront in Montauk in the late fall of 1998. But what a spill of Deepwater Horizon’s magnitude will mean for fishermen, beachgoers and anyone who cares about the Long Island shoreline is still largely unknown.

East Hampton Town Supervisor Bill Wilkinson convened a meeting last Thursday, June 10, with representatives from the Coast Guard, the New York State DEC, the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences (SOMAS) at Stony Brook University and town and regional officials who have a stake in emergency responses on the East End. The consensus among scientists and state and federal spill response units at the meeting was that Long Island’s coastline would likely not be affected by the oil spill if it were to enter the Gulf Stream, though some said that strong winds could push tar balls onto the south shore.

“The longer it goes on, the more likely it will enter the loop current,” said Karen Gomez, the regional spill engineer for the DEC on Long Island. “If it does enter, it will show up on South Florida beaches first. It moves east north of the Carolinas. NOAA predicts it won’t wash up on beaches north of the Carolinas. They believe tar balls are not going to show up in New York.”

“The 800-pound gorilla in the room is hurricane season,” said Mr. Wilkinson.

“It probably will break off toward the northeast at Cape Hatteras,” said Larry Swanson of SOMAS. “The Gulf Stream does not impinge on the continental shelf” south of Long Island, he added. “Scotland has a greater chance than we do. But there may be wind drift tar balls. They will probably be first experienced in the nets of fishermen.”

Fishermen, indeed, are the people who have the most at stake, as many fish spawn in the warm waters off the Gulf of Mexico before swimming north. Fishermen, and many residents present at Thursday’s meeting, were most concerned about the use of chemical dispersants in the Gulf of Mexico, and the long-term implications those chemicals will have on fish that make their way to New York.

Ms. Gomez, along with Coast Guard Lt. David Barnes, who heads the Coast Guard Marine Safety Detachment, an oil spill response center in Coram, said that the use of dispersants is far more strictly regulated in New York than in the Gulf of Mexico.

Ms. Gomez said that the decision to use dispersants in New York must be signed off on by her office, a regional office of the Environmental Protection Agency, NOAA and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“It gives you time to go through the cleanup, but it’s a double-edged sword,” Lt. Barnes said of dispersants. “But it’s not a decision that’s just made on the fly,” he added.

Lt. Barnes added that dispersants must be not be used in shallow water or near shore, using guidelines established by the federal government.

“It’s a collective-risk-versus-gain decision that is made well above my level,” he said.

Bonnie Brady, the executive director of the Long Island Commercial Fishing Association, said that she was concerned that many more species would be added to the endangered species list on account of the oil spill and the use of dispersants. She cited the enormous uptick in sea turtle deaths in the Gulf of Mexico since the spill as an example of her fear.

“The ultimate economic effect is going to hit us,” she said of the fishing industry.

Margaret Turner, executive director of the East Hampton Business Alliance, reminded attendees that nearly all of East Hampton’s economy, from fishing to tourism to its status as a destination for second-home owners, is dependent on the shoreline and the sea.

“The economic impact could be devastating for East Hampton,” she said.

Lt. Barnes also gave the group an overview of the different jurisdictions responsible for responding to oil spills. While the Coast Guard takes the lead in response to spills in the ocean and Long Island Sound, the DEC responds to spills in the Peconic Estuary. He added that he works closely with Ms. Gomez and the DEC on a constantly updated spill response plan that enables both agencies to stage boom material, update contracts with contractors who are on call to respond to spills and with offshore vessels that can skim oil off the water, and to interact with local emergency response teams.

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It seems like we are dong more here on the East End then "President" Obama and his people are doing from D.C..... ???
By KAZ (26), SOUTHAMPTON on Jun 16, 10 10:36 AM
what is it you think we are doing exactly?
By tm (174), mtk on Jun 16, 10 11:20 AM
Well, tm, many people are coming together to coordinate a response- as stated in the article.
KAZ prefaced his comment with "it seems like". Obama has played more golf in 8 months than Bush did in 8 years. He played golf rather than attend a memorial for the Polish president. He has had time for parties, vacations, concerts. He turned down offers of technological help from a dozen countries. So it seems like his administration doesn't care much about the people of the Gulf or an important ...more
By Montaukette (46), Waterland on Jun 17, 10 11:38 PM

Like What ???? -- - EXPLAIN YOURSELF
By pride of bonac (42), easthampton on Jun 23, 10 9:18 PM
It sure does seem as if we are more aware than the current presidential administration.
Good for East Hampton to have some foward thinking and if nothing else some dialog and communication.
By Old School Montaukette (10), Montauk on Jun 17, 10 2:05 PM
1 member liked this comment
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By Hambone (513), New York on Jun 22, 10 10:35 AM
If a spill that size hits East Hampton -- - That means that no one else has been successful in containing it -- - - Hey! I have a good idea -- - apply to the federal government for grant monies to be used in studying this problem and create more jobs for relatives and friends of insiders --- a thinktank of prominent Hamptonites who already have all the answers - - -
By pride of bonac (42), easthampton on Jun 23, 10 9:16 PM
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