Monday, August 31, 2015

ME Portland Oil Spill Response, Perma-Blitz (#2)

     We have moved about forty miles south to the town of Portland, Maine where we are visiting with some of the men and women who operate Marine Spill Response Corporation.  A major oil spill in 1989 caused by the Exxon Valdez colliding with a reef resulted in the large oil companies forming a response team to help mitigate any future spills.  This lead to the creation of MSRC in 1990.  Today this non-profit has 15 locations around the perimeter of the United States, each poised and ready to show up with major equipment in the event of a spill.  The Maine Responder is the flagship of this fleet.

     Judith Roos has worked with the company for 25 years and is Vice-President of corporate relations and marketing.  She came up from Virginia and helps show us around the ship.

     Oil is lighter than water, so the slick lays atop and slowly spreads.  To stop this spreading there are reels of what are called "booms."  These are inflatable tubes that get reeled out and connected together.

     Once the spreading is contained, a large floating receptacle acts as sort of a vacuum nozzle and sucks the oil and water mixture up.

     A long tube on a reel runs out to the receptacle and acts as a vacuum hose.

     The mixture is pumped into large tanks below decks, and an indicator panel in the wheelhouse shows the level of fluid in the tanks.

Captain David Ward

     The tanks consume just about all of the space below.  This is a access tunnel that runs down the middle of the ship, the tanks along each side.

     Captain Dave Ward retired after operating ocean going tankers for twenty years.  He then took over command of this boat, and has been here for 22 years.  Dave will retire this year from this job.  

     The mixture has to be run ashore to be processed, but the ship can dramatically expand its capacity by running the mixture through an oil-water separator.

     Also below decks is the engine room.  Two large Cat diesels power it, and three more diesels generate electricity.  

     The whole operation can be run with about twenty workers, but the ship can accommodate over thirty.  It is worth noting that the equipment at all of the sites is basically a duplicate of the other equipment.  This is so any employee can show up at any site and go right to work without having to figure out how things work.

     The ship has a decent sized commercial galley.  

     The work is messy, and there are rooms for people to completely clean and change clothing before they come into the living spaces of the ship.

     Cabins are pretty luxurious by marine standards.  There is a commercial galley for the men.

     There is also a large dining room, a recreation room and a communications room with computers and phones.  The rooms all have their own CAT-5 so residents can hook up to the internet via satellite at any time.

     The ship carries 3 support craft for assisting in operations and for as use in landing craft in places that are not capable of handling a ship this size.  There is also a helipad on the deck.

     Eric Wyman has been with the company 22 years and is the response supervisor for this location.

     The corporation was founded by several Coast Guard Admirals, and the military precision of the operation shows.  Eric was in the coast guard as well, and was kind enough to give us a tour of the operation. 

      Besides the support vessels on the ship, there are three other craft here that are ready for operations at all times.  And it isn't just the equipment that has to be ready all the time - employees do too.  There is extensive ongoing training and practice, and at no time can an employee be more than 2 hours away from the ship.

     This craft has a ramp that folds down from the front and internal tanks built into the hull that can take on oil too.  Two other craft with an extra supply of boom sit in the water ready for service.

     They have several barges on hand - one in the water but also several that can be transported on trailers.

    Here is a portable drive train and pilot house for a barge, loaded up on a trailer and ready to move out.  On the top left you can see the propellor sticking up.

     The biggest workhorse for ferrying the oil to the treatment facilities is this barge kept out in the harbor.  

     Much of the annual maintenance work is keeping this behemoth painted and in working order.

     The buildup of fumes is a big issue at cleanup sites.  If there is no wind fumes will build up quickly and pose an explosion risk.  There are sensors all around the ship and support craft to monitor this.  If fumes exceed an acceptable level, the site has to be abandoned until the wind picks up and the levels are safe again.  All of the equipment is diesel to avoid as many electrical sparks as possible.  These units below are diesel generators, but rather than electricity they produce hydraulic power.

     Even the little air compressors are diesels.

     This ship has responded to several spills, one when a tanker struck a bridge a few years back.  Here is a photo from an old newspaper that shows the wreck.

     These guys operate just like a fire department.  Constant maintenance of equipment, drills and training occupy them until a spill happens.  Then everything else in life gets dropped until the job is done.  Everything in the shop is state of the art, and everything is stored so anyone can find whatever they need without delays.

     The various regions inspect each other to insure that complacency doesn't set in - this is like responding to a fire.  You don't know when it is going to happen, but when it does your equipment is either ready or it isn't.  There isn't time to be fiddling with things when game time arrives.  

     The company really has its act together, and when we get to Virginia we will try to stop at headquarters and learn a bit more about these 15 locations coordinate together to handle these tragic spills.

     Back in Poland I had met a fellow from here named Mark McIsaac.

     He and his wife Geri invited me to their house to witness a fairly new concept to the United States - a thing called a Perma-Blitz.  Geri is pictured below showing a neighbor the plan.

     In short, a Perma-Blitz is when numerous community members get together on a regular basis to make over people's yards.  The emphasis is on growing food, managing water and plant species and creating enjoyable outdoor living spaces.  

     The concept started in Australia - you can read the concept by Clicking Here.  

     The first thing you have to do is to volunteer to work on other people's yards a few times.  Then, at the beginning of each year, the organizers accept applications for the spaces they will do that year.  It is usually ten to twelve in a season, and they try to mix in some public spaces as well as the residential.  They select applications that will give a variety of projects so that those involved will have a chance to learn the best techniques for a number of different scenarios.

     After volunteering and working on other projects for a couple of years, Mark and Geri's application was selected this year.  The first order of business was to get with a planner.  David Homa owns a company called "Post Carbon Designs" and is very involved in this community.

     He and the McIsaacs developed the plan shown above and got the raw materials delivered to the site.  This photo doesn't show nearly all of it - there is a pile in the street, a big stack of wood and a couple of trailers with various materials.

     Then, on the appointed day about fifty volunteers showed up.  They started the day with a big circle to communicate the plans.  Everyone gathers again at lunch for a lecture, and then at the close of the day everyone gets a chance to share their thoughts. 

    The photo above was at lunch time, and David was teaching theory and building techniques for portable green-houses.

     One of the crew leaders is Heather Foran.  Like many of the volunteers, Heather doesn't own a house that she could have done.  She simply volunteers for the learning, the social aspects and the sense of accomplishment.  All of the projects are designed to be completed in one day, so you get to see the result of your efforts immediately.

     Heather oversaw the installation of five raised planters.  Compost and potting soil was dumped in the drive and the street; many of the volunteers ferried materials to the back yard.  Also on the agenda were rain barrels.  

     Spigots were installed in big plastic barrels and block platforms were built to support them.  These were then positioned at each of the house's downspouts.

     At the end of the day the beds were ready to plant with straw atop them, and a portable greenhouse had been constructed for use on one of them.

     But the project that used the most material was the "outdoor room."  Two semicircles of potting soil were built up and log sections placed around them.  Then bushes that will grow into a privacy screen were planted.  Then the whole thing was mulched.  Ultimately this will grow into a semi-private "outdoor room."

     It was a fun thing to be a part of.  Lunch was great, and I was able to interact with numerous people.  It seems that almost all who attended were there for the learning and the social aspect - they were not that concerned with getting their yard done.   Everyone was very keen to help others learn to grow their own food, and many spoke about how much this country could produce if we all adopted this attitude.  Waste management, water management and renewable power generation are also projects the group takes on.  Various people involved have access to various materials used, and much of the material is donated or comes from other recycling and renewal efforts.

     There was also much conversation about how health an activity planting and gardening is for a family.  It seems having your hands in the dirt keeps you a bit better grounded.  No conversations on politics or other nonsense - everyone was focusing on community minded things and each other's well being.  My hopes that this catches on and spreads throughout the nation.

     And for the McIsaacs - they got major work done on their yard in one day, and spent less on the project than they would have if they had just bought the materials themselves.

     That brings us to today's "Faces in the Crowd."  This young lady was competing with some of the other children to see who could punch an empty plastic cup the furthest.  

     Perhaps an aspirant for those televised women's brawls that have become popular of late.

And today's parting shot, spotted on the Maine Responder on a wall in the cafeteria.

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Make it a great day !!

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