Oil Plume is 145 Miles Away from Panama City Beach

Pack your beach towels and sun screen and get down to the beach because we’ve been almost completely oil free (other than sun tan oil) for more than a month and there is no projected impact in sight.  We’ve been blessed with easterly winds which have kept the beaches of Panama City Beach of the plume projection models from NOAA.

Over the last several weeks, very sparse and scattered instances of tar balls have been reported and cleaned up along the beach.  But, these instances have been so few that most people that have come down here to vacation have had no idea that there was ever anything foreign wash ashore.  If you’ve been keeping an eye on our Facebook page, then you know that hundreds are posting their great experiences that they have had down here while on vacation.

Here are some highlights from the latest Bay County Newsletter:

  • BP began removing boom throughout the Florida Panhandle on Wednesday in anticipation of impacts from what is now Tropical Storm Bonnie. All Tier 1,2 and 3 boom in Bay County will be removed. Reductions in BP personnel walking the beach in search of oil may come soon, as well as removal of heavy equipment currently staged at the former Miracle Strip Amusement Park.
  • Bay County Emergency Services continues to eye a tropical disturbance that threatens to move into the Gulf of Mexico. The storm could be a positive thing for Bay County, according to Emergency Services Chief Mark Bowen.”If it maintains the forecast track,” he said, “this would actually be good for us.”

    He said it could help to push oil even farther away from Bay County’s shores.

  • Bay County received a $3.1 million wire transfer from BP Thursday to fund the construction of the boom project in the St. Andrew Pass. The money will be re-deposited into the county’s emergency fund.The transfer fell short of the overall $5.3 million request that includes the cost of removal of the project, though county officials said they would seek additional payment in the future.

    “The funds for the removal of the project have not yet been expended,” Assistant County Manager Bob Majka said. “We will revisit that issue with BP at the appropriate time.”

Updates from NOAA:

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced a reduction in the area of federal waters previously closed to fishing, effective 5 p.m. today. All commercial and recreational fishing including catch and release is prohibited in the remaining closed area; however, transit through the area is allowed. The closed area now measures 57,539 sq mi (149,026 sq km) and covers about 24 percent of the Gulf of Mexico exclusive economic zone. Before the southern area was re-opened, 83,927 miles (217,371 sq km), or roughly 35 percent of federal waters of the Gulf, were closed to fishing. NOAA will continue to evaluate the need for fisheries closures based on the evolving nature of the spill and will re-open closed areas as appropriate.

From the Florida DEP:

Easterly winds of 5-10 knots, seas of 1-3 feet nearshore and 4-6 feet offshore, and a 10-30 percent chance of rain are expected across the northern-central gulf today. However, a tropical system will approach the central Gulf of Mexico this weekend and will cause winds, seas, and rain chances to increase as it tracks slightly south of the oil spill site Saturday or Sunday. Heat indices will mostly reach 100-105 across the Florida Panhandle today and tomorrow but may reach 107 across eastern panhandle or western Florida Big Bend. Easterly winds and northward moving currents will continue to push the main portion of the oil plume towards the northwest. Tropical Depression #3 formed near the Bahamas this morning and is expected to become a weak tropical storm later today or tomorrow. The storm is expected to reach the Florida Keys Friday afternoon and reach the central Gulf of Mexico on Saturday. Tropical Storm Warnings have been posted for the Florida Keys, Southeast Florida from Golden beach southward, and Southwest Florida northward to Bonita Beach.

The Pass Project is Complete

The St. Andrew Bay Pass project is finished, and tests to determine whether the gates can be safely opened on an incoming tide will be conducted as soon as a schedule is coordinated between the appropriate entities.

The testing would require the temporary closure — likely a matter of a few hours midday in a single day — of the pass to all vessel traffic. Interested parties should stay tuned to local media and http://www.baycountyfl.gov for more information. Bay County will strive to provide adequate advance notice of any potential pass closure via the news media, the county Web site, email updates and signage.

The project is comprised of high-density polyethylene (HDPE) boom pipe attached to steel pilings on either side of the pass and a 400-foot HDPE boom pipe gate in the center of the waterway.

Boaters are warned to exercise extreme caution through the now narrower pass. Boaters are also asked to adhere to a 20-meter, or 65-feet, “safety zone” on either side of the boom, as currents there are very strong.

The boom system is comprised of 18 42-inch free-standing steel pilings and another eight pile “dolphins” (each consisting of three pilings attached together with a cap on them) were driven in the center of the pass. The total of 54 pilings vary in length depending on the depth of the water, and extend at least 10 feet above the mean high tide level and about half their entire length is buried below the bay’s floor. The boom is made of 30-inch diameter, two-inch thick HDPE pipe and will have a 48-inch long HDPE fabric weighted skirt hanging below the pipe.

Once the system is tested, much of the boom will likely be staged nearby to reduce congestion in the pass if the oil remains a safe distance away.

Here is a link to a previous post with tons of links to resources about the oil spill, tracking it and keeping up with us.

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