Martha’s Vineyard fisherman, fuel dealer show fuel spill skills

The Lake Street landing. — File photo by Steve Myrick

A Tisbury commercial fisherman and the co-owner of a fuel delivery service conducted a drill Thursday, June 16, for town officials, to show their contention that effective and efficient safety measures are in place to fuel commercial fishing boats at the public landing on Tashmoo.

In the time it takes to say “emergency oil spill drill at the Lake Street landing on Lake Tashmoo,” Jeff Canha surrounded half his fishing boat with an absorbent boom on Thursday morning.

Mr. Canha, chairman of the Commercial Fishermen of Tisbury (CFI), and fuel dealer Jay McMann of Island Fuel conducted the drill. Two members of the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) Marine Safety Detachment Cape Cod and several Tisbury town officials, including Tisbury harbormaster Jay Wilbur, and Tashmoo management committee (TMC) members observed.

Mr. Canha tied his boat Done Deal alongside the dock and began pumping diesel fuel from Mr. McMann’s nearby truck. “Fuel spill,” he called out, and Mr. McMann immediately shut off the fuel valve in his truck.

Mr. Canha quickly moved to link three white, tube-shaped absorbent booms, lower them into the water, and loop them around the perimeter of his boat. Mr. McMann gave him a hand and fastened the end of the linked booms to the dock. The event was over in less than 10 minutes and appeared to go off without a hitch.

Lessons learned

Afterwards, Second Class Marine Science Technician (MST2) Joshua Galloway and MST3 Nicholas Morgan complimented Mr. Canha and Mr. McMann on a successful drill and offered helpful advice. The two Coast Guardsmen are pollution investigators stationed at USCG Air Station Cape Cod in Bourne.

MST2 Galloway told Mr. Canha that in the event of a spill, fuel oil disperses slowly, so it is not necessary to rush and risk a sprained ankle or a fall.

He also said the absorbent boom does not have to go all the way around the boat’s hull. The object is to extend the boom beyond the spill area to encircle it, rather than the boat.

The boom absorbs fuel oil on contact. It should be removed once the spill is fully absorbed, MST2 Galloway said.

A surprise, MST3 Morgan explained that the booms could be reused until completely saturated. “Diesel fuel turns them red, so you’ll know,” he told Mr. Canha.

Mr. McMann said it was very helpful to have the two Coast Guardsmen at the drill.

“I didn’t realize how the booms link together, that they overlap, so it was good learning curve for me and good to actually see them in use,” he explained.

The USCG personnel also inspected Mr. McMann’s truck. Mr. McMann said his insurance company does not allow him to board a vessel. Regulations require him to stand by his truck and let the captain of the boat fuel the vessel.

Mr. McMann said that in addition to a shut-off valve, his truck is equipped with a special switch that allows him to slow the rate of flow while refueling boats to 12 gallons per minute, compared to the usual rate of 60 to 70 gallons per minute for other fuel trucks.

Mr. Canha asked what is considered a reportable spill. MST3 Morgan said any spill in which a boater deploys the boom should be reported at once to the USCG’s National Response Center at 1-800-424-8802.

Boaters or swimmers who notice water where a rainbow-colored sheen appears on the surface indicating a spill should call the response center, MST3 Morgan said. He and MST2 Galloway regularly go out on patrols looking for just such signs.

When asked what difficulties they see most often in drills and training, MST2 Galloway named two: communication between the participants and people working too fast in an unsafe manner.

“These guys did great,” he said.

Official audience

Mr. Wilbur, his administrative assistant, John Crocker, and Tisbury Fire Chief John Schilling attended the drill, which was videotaped for the selectmen and shellfish constable, who were unable to attend.

Chief Schilling said he wasn’t sure who would report on the drill to the selectmen, but that in the event of a fuel spill, his department would be called.

“Island Fuel has all of the necessary equipment, permits, and insurance,” he said. “People have been fueling their boats down here for years using 55-gallon containers. I think this is going to be the safest operation on the pond, and we’ve established a good model for other areas around the Island.”

While the absorbent booms Mr. Canha used are sufficient for a minor spill, MST3 Morgan said containment of a large spill would require a specialized boom that has a “skirt” attached that floats below the surface of the water.

Mr. Canha said he purchased three absorbent booms at a cost of about $690. He said he hopes to be reimbursed from the TMC or the harbormaster.

Tisbury has an oil spill response trailer equipped with a boom for larger incidents. The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection provided the trailer at no cost to all of the state’s coastline communities in 2007, to help ensure each community has state-of-the-art equipment to mitigate the impacts of a marine oil spill.

Evolution of Fueling regulations

Last Friday’s drill was a first, as required under new fueling regulations for Lake Tashmoo approved by the Tisbury selectmen in an amendment to the town’s waterways regulations in June 2010 (“Tisbury selectmen approve Lake Street dock fueling,” June 3, 2010). To address safety and environmental concerns, the selectmen stipulated that the fuel vendor and commercial fishermen must conduct a yearly drill, observed by the harbormaster and shellfish constable.

The fueling regulations allow a commercial fuel dealer in a truck to fuel commercial fishing vessels at the dock. Mr. McMann has delivered fuel at the Lake Street landing for several years.

In August 2009, the TMC and harbor management committee raised objections to the selectmen about the long-running practice because the waterways regulations prohibited commercial activities on town property (“Tisbury eyes shared police services with Oak Bluffs,” August 13, 2009). The committees also recommended against allowing fueling of boats at town docks, piers, and landings because of concerns about possible spills and environmental harm.

The town’s commercial fishermen, who work from Lake Tashmoo, argued that refueling from a commercial vendor with specialized equipment, proper permits, and insurance was safer than filling fuel tanks from hand-held containers.

At a public hearing on May 4, 2010, the selectmen voted to allow commercial fishermen to refuel at the Lake Street landing using a licensed professional commercial delivery service, because they said they agreed it would be safer (“Tisbury stiffens waterways rules,” March 4, 2010). The selectmen also asked the two harbor management committees and the commercial fishermen to work out the specifics of the regulations together.

The selectmen decided to issue one fuel-vendor permit annually and five commercial permits to commercial fishermen who want to refuel their boats at the Lake Street dock. They agreed to issue a request for proposals (RFP) and select a commercial fuel vendor on the basis of price and eligibility criteria. The selectmen said Mr. McMann should submit a formal application for his fueling operation.

The town requested proposals (RFP) twice last year and once earlier this year. No one responded, including Mr. McMann, so a vendor was not selected.

Last week the Tisbury selectmen revisited the subject of fueling at Lake Tashmoo and the lack of response to the RFP. With renewed interest this summer from commercial fishermen and also Mr. McMann, the selectmen agreed to re-advertise the fueling service RFP very soon.