Hernando County looks for outside expert to review oil spill plan

BROOKSVILLE — While the oil from the Deepwater Horizon disaster is still hundreds of miles from Hernando's shoreline, county Emergency Management Director Cecilia Patella has taken another step to protect the area in case it heads this direction.

Patella has asked state emergency management officials to approach BP to secure an expert in oil spill containment to review the county's new emergency response plan to assure that all the necessary precautions and procedures to protect the fragile coastal estuaries have been anticipated.

Patella presented updated information on the county's continued monitoring of the spill to the County Commission on Tuesday.

She showed a forecast map for where the impacts of the oil are expected, noting Hernando was still far from the center of the spreading oil. But the map also showed a gray border around Florida, a line questioned by Commissioner Jeff Stabins.

He wanted to know how much time the county would have to respond if the oil came toward Hernando and whether Patella was ready.

The gray border, she explained, was when the oil was 72 hours away. At the trigger point, those who are heading up the response — in this area, the Coast Guard in St. Petersburg — would take action to protect already designated areas.

In Hernando County, that would mean 21,000 feet of the county's coastline.

Would 72 hours be enough time or could the county get reimbursed if it took more proactive steps to prepare for the approaching oil, Stabins asked.

Patella said she has asked for the expert to review the county's new oil spill plan to provide "some reassurance that we didn't miss anything.''

She also told commissioners that there were 80 unemployed Hernando County residents who had signed up through local workforce officials and through Florida's volunteer network to be trained to work on cleanup efforts but that locally the United Way was also still collecting names if additional volunteers are needed.

Patella also noted the number of damage claims by Hernando individuals and businesses spiked after her office recently held a workshop on the claims process.

In other business:

• Commissioners rejected a proposal that would have allowed Peter DeNunzio to continue to use the parking lot of his mini-storage business on U.S. 19 adjacent to Regency Oaks as outside vehicle storage.

His original approval for the storage business in 2003 allowed him to park and store vehicles outside until 2007, but the use continues today.

Residents of Regency Oaks, some of whose homes back up to the site with recreational vehicles and boats, have complained.

The existing problem, a wall which didn't block the site and had not been maintained and the lack of a vegetative buffer also promised in 2003, was affecting the neighborhood and home values, they argued.

The Planning and Zoning Commission recommended allowing an extension of time for the use, but county commissioners said the outside storage was not appropriate adjacent to residential properties and unanimously denied the request.

• County Administrator David Hamilton informed commissioners that his plan to bring a proposal for an engineer to do a full study of the condition of the Hernando County Jail was not yet ready for presentation.

Hamilton had been negotiating with HDR Engineering Inc., one of a pool of firms the county uses for projects, to do the inspection, assessment, recommendation and preliminary cost estimates for jail repairs but the firm's proposal reflected a fee "far in excess of what we deem reasonable.''

He promised that negotiations were ongoing and would come to a future board meeting.

• Commissioners agreed to set a special board meeting for Aug. 31 to review Hamilton's reorganization plan. Hamilton has vowed to further shrink the management structure and the leadership team of the county to continue to make county government more efficient.

Meeting on that date would allow commissioners one more chance to discuss the many budget issues that officials will have to start finalizing during the two budget hearings in September. The new fiscal year begins Oct. 1.

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at behrendt@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1434.

Hernando County looks for outside expert to review oil spill plan 07/13/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 13, 2010 9:20pm]

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