Governor declares state of emergency
Coast Guard scrutinized for response time, investigation continues
By Kristin Bender and William Brand STAFF WRITERS - Oakland Tribune
Article Last Updated: 11/10/2007 02:37:05 AM PST
IMPACT TO BE FELT FOR YEARS
Oil spoils plans for weekend
As the governor declared a state of emergency Friday that will bring state money to oil spill cleanup efforts, hundreds of crews and a hefty amount of oil-skimming equipment had soaked up about 30 percent of the oil that gushed into the San Francisco Bay on Wednesday.
As cleanup of the 58,000-gallon oil spill in the Bay continued full-bore, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger came to Fort Mason and signeda proclamation of a state of emergency.
This allows the state to deploy emergency personnel and equipment and gives officials the right to tap into a state trust fund to ensure that resources are being used to expedite the cleanup, Schwarzenegger said.
Officials estimated that roughly 17,500 gallons of bunker fuel oil had been recovered as of Friday.
Calling the Bay Area a "favorite place," and an area he feels "very passionate about," Schwarzenegger said he has taken steps to "throw everything we possibly can at this without wasting a minute of time."
Meanwhile, criticism continued to mount of the U.S. Coast Guard's response after a container ship struck the Bay Bridge.
The attorney for the pilot, who was guiding the ship away from the Port of Oakland when it hit the bridge piling, issued a statement saying he notified authorities immediately, and soon after alerted them that there was a sheen of oil on the water.
According to the statement from Capt. John Cota's lawyer, it took cleanup crews at least 90 minutes to respond. Coast Guard
logs of the day's events shows a response team on the scene in about a half hour, but it took much longer for oil-skimming vessels to arrive.
"Until the time that Capt. Cota left the ship there had been no response whatsoever to his and the other pilot's reports, which, of course, allowed the spill to spread," said the statement from attorney John F. Meadows.
Cota's statement bolsters the criticism of local officials, who have said the Coast Guard did not tell them until 9 p.m. Wednesday, more than 12 hours after the accident, that 58,000 gallons of heavy bunker fuel had spilled into the Bay, not the 140 gallons that was previously reported.
Rear Adm. Craig Bone, the Coast Guard's top official in California, conceded the agency should have done a better job keeping local authorities informed.
"That is not acceptable," said Bone.
But he insisted the Coast Guard's response was immediate and aggressive and that the miscommunication did not impede efforts to corral the oil.
"What I want to impress upon people is, there was an immediate response, there was an immediate response to prevent further loss, there was an immediate response to gather as much as you possibly can," Bone said.
The Coast Guard logs show that the agency received a report of the bridge incident at 8:30 a.m., and a response team in a small boat arrived at the scene at 9:03 a.m.
After assessing the bridge piling for structural damage, authorities reported an oil slick trailing from the ship. At 9:50 a.m., according to the logs, a vessel was on scene "assessing affected areas with skimming equipment." A spokesman for the ship's owner said the skimmers went to work around 9:55 a.m.
The new logs that surfaced Friday suggested the agency had concluded by 4:49 p.m. that 58,000 gallons had spilled. That contradicted a different log obtained by the Associated Press on Thursday, which said that at 4:49 p.m., the Coast Guard believed 400 gallons had escaped.
Sen. Barbara Boxer sent a letter to Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Thad W. Allen, who told her Friday that the National Transportation Safety Board would investigate the agency's response, according to Boxer.
"I will continue to be in close touch with him on this issue and hold him to his word that those responsible for the severe breakdown in communication will be held accountable," Boxer said.
Assemblywoman Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, chair of the Assembly Committee on Natural Resources, will convene an emergency oversight hearing Thursday to review what led to the spill, response efforts and environmental damage involving the oil spill.
"This oil spill is a wake-up call for the Bay Area," Hancock said in a statement. "For a spill of relatively small size, it has quickly spread out of control, impacting not only the waters and wildlife of the Bay, but also the Pacific Ocean and our coastal beaches."
The Cosco Busan, a container ship carrying about 2,500 packed shipping containers, was headed from the Port of Oakland to South Korea about 8:30 a.m. Wednesday when it slammed into a Bay Bridge tower during heavy fog.
The cause of the crash remains under investigation.
"This is a tragedy for the Bay," said David Lewis, the executive director of Save the Bay. "We're already seeing evidence of the damage ... it's essential that cleanup and response happen as quickly as possible."
Across the Bay Area, more than 200 people from at least 19 federal, state and local agencies are involved with the response and cleanup efforts. Today, an additional 200 trained responders will arrive to supplement the initial response team, according to U.S. Coast Guard officials.
Additionally, there are at least 10 wildlife recovery teams on beaches helping with bird rescue efforts. Additional teams are expected this weekend.
In the water, at least 11 skimmers — a belt made from a material that attracts oil — were working to clean up the oil.
At least 18,000 feet of floating booms surrounding major oil slicks were in place around the Bay Area to soak up and corral the oil and to protect the beaches and wildlife, Coast Guard officials said.
An additional 60,000 feet of oil-containing booms are expected to be deployed in coming days, officials said. Flyovers will help track spilled oil and direct response vessels, they said.
Meanwhile, the head of the Coast Guard team looking into the collision said investigators are focusing on communications between the four people who were on the bridge of the 900-foot container ship when it struck the Bay Bridge.
The collision did not damage the bridge, but mangled the bumper on the bridge tower's abutment. The repair is expected to cost about $1 million, said Caltrans Bay Bridges spokesman Bart Ney.
The Cosco Busan was still in San Francisco on Friday, but next week will return to the Port of Oakland to offload its 2,500 shipping containers and then go elsewhere for repairs, a Port of Oakland spokeswoman said Friday.
While no one was injured in the spill, birds and other wildlife have suffered greatly.
At least 73 live, oiled birds have been scooped from the water and from beaches and are being rehabilitated, said Lt. Rob Roberts of the state Department of Fish and Game. Nineteen birds have died, Roberts said.
He urged citizens to be wary about handling birds and to call the emergency line, 877-823-6926, to report oil-soaked birds. Across the Bay Area, people and pets should stay away from contaminated beaches and not attempt cleanup without training, experts said.
Once the birds are rescued, they are kept warm and comfortable before they are taken to the San Francisco Bay Oiled Wildlife Care and Education Center in Fairfield for cleaning with soap.
Mark Russell, who works for the San Francisco Bay Oiled Wildlife Care and Education Center in Fairfield, was at the Berkeley Marina on Friday training a dozen volunteers on how to catch sick and oiled birds using a net on a pole. At least 32 oil-coated birds were rescued in Berkeley on Friday, officials said.
Pat Evans was one of the volunteers who helped catch oiled birds in Berkeley. Evans loaded 12 oiled birds in boxes in the back of her station wagon and took them to the rescue center in Fairfield. "I just love the birds," said Evans. "Let's hope some of them make it."
The Associated Press and MediaNews staff writers Doug Oakley and Paul T. Rosynsky contributed to this report.
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