Should We Close Our Waterways?

At last night’s special City Council committee of the whole meeting, one of the issues discussed by members was the possibility of closing inshore waterways for recreational boaters.

After hearing BP representatives talk about cleaning efforts of oiled vessels offshore and the proposal of bringing new cleaning stations along the coast, including opening one at the Bayou Chico Runyan Ship Yard in the next few weeks, worries from the Council surfaced over oil getting into coastal waters by weekend boaters—many who would never know they needed to decontaminate.

“Will there be ecological damage for Pensacola Bay by the use of pleasure boats?” asked Councilwoman Diane Mack.

Councilmember Larry B. Johnson asked BP reps what they planned to do to return “bodies of water to their original level of quality” before the oil contamination.

Currently, BP only has one boat cleaning station nearshore, which sits in Alabama Pass. The company has three large stations along the Gulf Coast for large boats and numerous others, like what Bayou Chico will soon have, that clean vessels up to 150 feet in length.

BP reps say their goal is to keep oiled vessels as close to the Gulf as possible for decontamination.

“Right now I’m more concerned with spreading oils to areas we have control of,” said Mark Delozier, decontamination branch director for BP. “We can’t tell people where to go, but hope they can go to (our cleaning facilities).”

Members of the audience, including Escambia Neighborhood and Environmental Services Director Keith Wilkins, told Council they had seen evidence of contamination from boats running through slicks. Wilkins mentioned that the county was looking at new spots for decontamination spots for voters.

Neither the city nor the county has the direct authority to close waterways, but can close boat ramps and other accesses. The U.S. Coast Guard would have authority to make water closures.

City Manager Al Coby said the city has the authority over three ramps: 17th Avenue, Bayou Texar and Sanders Beach.