Oil spill response plan still a work in progress

The Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head Natural Resources Department held a special training session with local harbormasters, Menemsha and Providence Coast Guard and other oil spill experts Wednesday.

Working with Nuka Research and Planning Group, the Natural Resources Department had devised a few different ways to prevent oil from reaching Menemsha Pond if an oil spill were to occur nearby.

But the tactics did not work because of strong tidal flows.

In theory, the planning group wanted 800 feet of boom to stay afloat near West Basin Road at a steep angle to divert incoming oil to the shore, instead of letting it spread to the pond, but the current kept forcing the boom to sink.

The second boom deployed to keep oil away from Edys Island also sank below the pond’s surface because of strong current.

In an actual oil spill situation, oil would form its own layer on top of the water. So, if the boom cannot float, oil will easily go over the boom, defeating the purpose of the boom deployment.

Director of the Wampanoag tribe’s Natural Resources Department, Bret Stearns, said, this is still a trial and error process.

“We now know that the force of the incoming and outgoing tide is not compatible with the equipment we have,” Mr. Stearns said. “So, we all discussed how to best use our resources most effectively should a spill occur.”

The Massachusetts state government gave each town oil spill response trailers, and the Wampanoag tribe used a $20,000 grant from the Office of Enforcement Compliance and Assurance (OECA) Program to stage Wednesday’s exercise.

Mr. Stearns said, “Perhaps most important, the tribe and the towns of Aquinnah and Chilmark worked on this together. Oil spill prevention is not a full-time job, or even a part-time job for any one of us. It is something that we are expected to provide, but has little training or oversight.”

Watch the video for an explanation from John Duponte of Moran Environmental, to see how the responders deploy the boom in case of an emergency.