IN kicked out of DEP/BP meeting

Gov. Charlie Crist is in Pensacola to see firsthand the preparations for the impending oil slick that is approaching Florida. Before Gov. Crist arrived – which was about noon. Members of the Area Unified Command met with BP officials and county leaders to discuss strategies. Until today, there has been little communication with county leaders….quite frankly they have been left in the dark.

When I was identified by Joe Oliveri of BP as reporter, I was asked by Nancy Blum, DEP communications director, to leave the room. They were talking about operational matters and I was to wait until Gov. Crist arrived for his briefing to re-enter the room.

As I was led out of the room, I overheard Florida DEP Secretary Michael Sole telling a BP representative, “I’m going to take care of you.”

When Gov. Crist arrived, we shook hands in the hallway and he invited me to walk in with him and his small entourage. No one stopped me from coming back into the room. In Ops Center that is in the Chappie James Building, the governor was briefed by United States Coast Guard Capt. Steve Poulin, Sec. Sole, Oliveri and Gary Stewart, general manager of Governmental Affairs for BP.

Capt. Poulin told Gov. Crist that no oil from the Louisiana rig had impacted the coastline of Florida, yet. “There is a tremendous amount of uncertainty of where the oil spill will land, but it may hit the coasts of Mississippi, Alabama and Florida within the next 24 hours.”

Poulin assured the governor that BP has “its best minds working on this.” I looked over the sign-in sheet for the room and five BP employees had signed the sheet, but Stewart didn’t sign it so there may have been more in the room.

Stewart told Gov. Crist, “We have the full BP group-from around the world-focused on this problem. We are working aggressively as we can at the source, in the water and on the shores. We are here for the long-term.”

A challenge of the Area Command is balancing commerce with the environment. Capt. Poulin that the Coast Guard is concerned with maintaining the free flow of commerce and is developing strategies to decontaminate ships that sail through the oil before they reach ports, rivers and bays. Sec. Sole talked about protecting Florida’s resources.

Governor Crist asked if any new strategies have been developed. Stewart said that there’s no good idea that’s not being employed.

Commissioners Grover Robinson and Gene Valentino, along with County Administrator Larry Newsom, presented their recommendation for booming near the Peridido Pass in hopes of stopping the oil from getting into Pensacola Bay, Santa Rosa Sound, Escambia Bay and the Intercoastal Waterway. Gov. Crist was excited about the idea, but only appeared to get a lukewarm reception from the Coast Guard and DEP.

Commissioner Valentino told the Governor that he has 300-500 volunteers at local community center waiting to help clean up the local beaches of debris that might later hinder an oil clean-up operation.

Capt. Poulin did say that the recent experimental burning of the oil went “very well,” but it is environment-dependent and weather-dependent. He admitted that burning want solve this problem, but is one tool that can be used.

Joe Oliveri gave a very brief presentation on the booming: 54,000 feet of boom has been deployed, 10,000 feet is in reserve and another 35,000 is in route to NAS Pensacola.

The Governor, DEP, BP and County officials left the briefing to review the booming at Project Greenshores on Bayfront Parkway and to visit NAS Pensacola for an official press conference….which I will skip.