When Superstorm Sandy struck the eastern seaboard, members of the U.S. Coast Guard's Hamilton Strike Team packed their bags and knew they'd be getting the call.
Petty Officer Mike Shannon, a Novato resident, and Petty Officer Ian Gable of Rohnert Park were dispatched from their headquarters in Novato to Sewaren, N.J., to supervise the cleanup of a diesel fuel spill into Arthur Kill, a river that serves as the border between New Jersey and the extreme southern tip of New York. Sewaren is about 23 miles southwest of Manhattan.
Gable said Saturday that a team of contractors has been hired to handle the cleanup of tens of thousands of gallons of low-sulphur fuel into Smith's Creek next to the facility, known as the Motiva Terminal. The above-ground tank suffered a puncture during the storm, he said. Responders are working to remove contained pockets of oil by using skimmers, vacuum trucks, absorbent pads and boom.
"It's a pretty substantial spill — probably several swimming pools' worth but I'd say less than 50,000 gallons," he said. "We're doing everything we can to limit the damage."
Shannon and Gable are trusted to monitor the contracted workers and "make sure they're doing the work safely and properly," Gable said. "We're also assisting with the assessments of the area."
The two petty officers are among 42 people on the Pacific Strike Team, which is mobilized with two other U.S. strike teams whenever there is a major spill into natural waters. More than a dozen Pacific Strike Team members, who routinely assist with oil and hazardous chemical spills around the country, are assisting Coast Guard, Environmental Protection Agency and local responders with hazardous material removal and will be involved in operating high-capacity pumps to dewater the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, according to a release.
In addition to the Novato personnel, Coast Guard teams based in San Diego and Alameda deployed last week to the East Coast to assist with Sandy recovery efforts. The teams are working with federal, state and local authorities to ensure the safety and security of ports and facilities in the region and assist with pollution response and flood recovery operations, according to the release.
Gable said he estimates he and Shannon will be in New Jersey for three weeks.