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Oil spill experts tell Richmond group they’re prepared

on July 2, 2010

Despite the not-yet-distant memory of the 2007 Cosco Busan oil spill in the San Francisco Bay, and the ongoing worries about the spill that continues to gush gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico after an April explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon rig off the coast of Louisiana, a pair of oil disaster-response experts had a fairly simple message for the dozen or so Richmond residents gathered Wednesday at a Point Richmond Neighborhood Council meeting: Don’t worry, we’re prepared.

Heather Kostecki, a U.S. Coast Guard commander with the San Francisco Planning and Force Readiness division, and Matt Kelly, Chevron’s head of emergency services and spill response for Richmond, both assured the neighborhood group that the lessons learned both in Louisiana this year, and through the Cosco Busan spill three years ago, have served local disaster crews well, and that in the event of a future spill here, a more streamlined approach to coordinating containment and clean-up should spare the Bay Area many of the problems it experienced in the past.

“We didn’t do enough to engage local stakeholders, local NGOs [non-governmental organizations],” Kostecki said of the Coast Guard’s response to the Cosco Busan spill. Citizen groups like the San Francisco-based Baykeeper often have an intimate knowledge of sensitive local environments that government agencies lack, she said. “We didn’t do a good job here. But we’re working hard to partner with them now.”

Matt Kelly, the head of emergency services and spill response for Chevron in Richmond, addresses a citizen group Wednesday in Point Richmond. Photo by Ian Stewart.

The Cosco Busan spill resulted in 53,000 gallons of bunker fuel being released into the Bay after the ship, navigating through a thick fog, struck one of the towers of the Bay Bridge. Because of typically strong currents in the bay, the oil reached several beaches, causing closures in Marin, San Francisco and the East Bay and killing thousands of birds and fish. The cleanup effort was estimated to cost more than $70 million.

Additionally, the Coast Guard was heavily criticized at the time for grossly underestimating the amount of oil released into the bay, and for how long it took to communicate the extent of the spill to O’Brien’s Group, which was contracted by the ship’s parent company to handle the clean-up.

“We took our lumps here,” Kostecki said.

However, she said, the Coast Guard has since updated its Geographic Response Plan for the San Francisco Bay, with detailed maps of the shorelines, harbors, eddies, currents and wind patterns that should help oil spill cleanup crews better contain a spill should another one occur.

Chevron, which operates its largest West Coast refinery in Richmond and is the city’s leading importer of petroleum and crude oil, is also well prepared for a spill, Kelly said. The company conducts test drills four times a year, and is in constant contact with other cleanup agencies that can lend support to containment efforts.

“There’s a lot of connectivity here between Chevron and local and state agencies,” he said. “We’re actually resource-rich here.”

Richmond is home to 32 miles of coastline – the most of any city in the Bay Area – leaving the city’s shores, and particularly Point Richmond’s, vulnerable to a spill. The city owns five port terminals and contracts out another 10, of which liquid bulk – primarily petroleum – is the largest import. The Port of Richmond handles the greatest tonnage of liquid commodities of any port in the Bay Area.

In other news from Wednesday’s neighborhood meeting, it appears that some designs plans at the soon-to-be-reopened Plunge swimming pool are undergoing a last-minute change.

Crews that had been pulling the old fiberglass off a mushroom-shaped fountain that was once located inside the pool’s kiddie area stumbled into some interesting local history over the weekend.

The architectural firm handling the pool rehabilitation had presumed that there wasn’t any archival record of what the old tile that adorned the fountain looked like, since the fountain was covered in fiberglass during a renovation sometime in the 1970s. Instead, the design team had planned to simply re-imagine a tile mosaic for the fountain, which will now be placed outside the Plunge, in a front yard. The re-imagined design was going to feature a colorful underwater scene complete with red and orange seahorses.

A drawing of the original tile design on a mushroom-shaped fountain at the Plunge swimming pool shows the fountain's original design. Image courtesy of Todd Jersey Architecture.

But in the course of removing the fiberglass, crews actually found, to their great surprise, the original tile. “We pulled the fiberglass off, and low and behold, the tile’s there,” Todd Jersey, the lead architect, told the crowd. “This changes the whole game. Now we know exactly what the tile looked like, and where it was.”

In keeping with the historical faithfulness of the project, Jersey said he’ll likely scrap the seahorse design on the fountain. The Save the Richmond Plunge Trust will have final say on the design switch-a-roo, but with opening day scheduled for Aug. 14, there isn’t much time for debate. The Point Richmond Neighborhood Council, which has some informal say in the matter, didn’t formally vote on the change in plan, but a straw poll showed unanimous support for moving forward with the historic version of the fountain.


  1. Jean Womack on July 6, 2010 at 2:07 am

    I’m glad you are covering this story. The British people are U.S. allies and we want to keep it that way. I think we have some U.S. people pretending to be British and I sure hope that none of them get hurt as a result of the hostility generated by this stupid oil disaster and the tragic deaths of the oil workers.

  2. Jean Womack on July 6, 2010 at 2:10 am

    Since I lived here for 40 years and published a small newspaper for ten years, people sometimes came to me and told me about things I was helpless to do anything about, and too frightened to write about either. Someone has to write about this stuff and you could save some lives by doing so.


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