Coast Guard says oil spill contingency plan for San Diego is in place


City News Service

A contingency plan is in place to respond to oil spills off the coast of San Diego County or in San Diego Bay, it was announced Monday.

The plan, which is maintained and occasionally updated by the U.S. Coast Guard, was developed 20 years ago after the Exxon Valdez disaster in Alaska, said Cmdr. Danny LeBlanc, who is in charge of the San Diego sector.

The USCG regularly meets with state and local agencies, as well as community and environmental groups, to make sure the plan is current. It covers an area from the Mexican border to Dana Point in Orange County, and extends 200 nautical miles off the coast, LeBlanc said.

The announcement was made in a news conference at the USCG base in San Diego in wake of the disastrous Gulf Coast oil spill. A number of trucks and one small boat were parked in a semi-circle behind the podium to display the available equipment.

The commander said the worst-case scenario for San Diego would be if an oil tanker collided with another vessel in the mouth of San Diego Bay.

“The key to the spill at the beginning would be the protection of (human) life — the securing of the scene, and then it would be securing the spill itself,” LeBlanc said.

The only fuel tankers that come into San Diego Bay belong to the Navy, he said. Commercial tanker ships usually pass 50 miles off the coast on the way to Los Angeles, and nearly all of them have double hulls to prevent spills in case of a collision, he said.

LeBlanc said the spill contingency plan addresses mechanical repairs, oil dispersal, shoreline cleanup, and the rescue and rehabilitation of wildlife.

Robin Lewis, a senior environmental scientist with the state Scientific Spill Response Program, said agencies are on constant watch for major oil leaks.

“We are prepared to act within minutes if a situation develops,” Lewis said. “We like to think we’re ready to go.”

The plan also envisions that civilians would be ready to offer help in case of an oil disaster. The group Volunteer San Diego has been put in charge of coordinating “spontaneous volunteers” who show up at the scene, said the organization’s director, Patricia Davis.