By Joseph Domelowicz Jr.
For the Transcript
Sitting as it does on the northern doorstep of Boston Harbor, the region’s largest working port, means that Winthrop is constantly at risk from the potential dangers of oil spills at sea. Similarly, since virtually all of Winthrop’s catch basins and drains ultimately lead to the harbor, the harbor is always in danger of being polluted by a mid-sized industrial accident here in town.
Thankfully, a solution to both problems has arrived, courtesy of the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the 2004 Oil Spill Prevention and Response Act.
Officials from the Massachusetts DEP and others were on hand Monday afternoon at the Winthrop Public Landing for the unveiling of the area’s first Oil Spill Response Trailer, one of nine such trailers that will be deployed on the North Shore as part of the act’s goal to protect the harbor and the coastline from the potential for manmade disaster.
The eight other trailers being deployed on the North Shore will be stored in Chelsea, Danvers, Everett, Lynn, Nahant, Peabody, Revere, Saugus and Swampscott and will ultimately be a part of a network of 80 similar trailers deployed along the entire Massachusetts coast, from the border of Massachusetts to Buzzard’s Bay and around the Cape.
“Our coastline helps to shape Massachusetts’ identity as the Bay State, and while the state’s priority will always be to protect natural resources from environmental damage, we also need our partner communities to have the capability to respond in the event of an emergency,” Deputy Commissioner Moran said during ceremonies held at the Winthrop Town Pier. “As history has shown, failing to do so only means longer, and ultimately more expensive, cleanups. Communities with these trailers will be ready, just in case.”
Winthrop Fire Chief Paul Flanagan noted on Tuesday that the town’s fleet of harbormaster boats and the fire department’s fire boat mean that Winthrop will be more than capable of deploying the equipment in the trailer both on land and at sea.
“Considering that all of our catch basins ultimately empty into the harbor and with the way that the MWRA has cleaned up the harbor of the past decade, this really is a valuable piece of equipment to have on hand,” said Chief Flanagan.
“These spill response trailers will help us limit the damage of any future oil spills,” House Speaker Robert DeLeo said. “As a representative of Winthrop and Revere, I am comforted to know that we are well-prepared to protect our shores in the event of an emergency.”
“It is imperative that our communities are better prepared in the event of an unfortunate and potentially devastating mishap,” said Senator Anthony Petruccelli (D-Boston). “The response trailers represent a proactive measure to further protect our coastal resources.”
“As first responders to environmental damage events in and around our waters, we are grateful to have equipment to respond quickly and appropriately to protect our coastline and marine habitat,” said Winthrop Town Manager James McKenna.
Chief Flanagan also noted that the trailers come with training for the first responders who will be required to use the equipment in the event of a spill, and the assets in each trailer are re-stocked by the state if they are used to respond to a spill, so there is no cost for hosting the trailer in the town and a great benefit to the community and the environment as a whole.
“One of the conditions of housing these trailers is that you must be willing to respond with the trailer to a larger, region wide event if needed, but most likely we’d do that anyway, and in the event that we had a larger emergency here in Winthrop, we’ll be able to call on the other trailers in our neighboring communities to help us deal with it as well,” added Chief Flanagan.
Deploying the trailers was a key part of the Oil Spill Prevention and Response Act of 2004, which was crafted in response to the massive oil spill of April 27, 2003. In that incident, approximately 98,000 gallons of industrial fuel oil spilled into Buzzards Bay after a tank barge struck a rocky outcropping, polluting nearly 100 miles of coastline, leaving 178,000 acres of shellfish beds closed for months during the cleanup, and killing more than 450 shore birds.
Two years later, in June 2005, the initial round of 14 marine spill response trailers were delivered to the vicinity of that spill, the Buzzards Bay region. Currently, the state has 48 spill response trailers in place, each costing $32,000 to purchase, stock, outfit and deliver.
The commonwealth intends to have 80 trailers in place within the next year at various locations around the state, maintained and replenished by Mass DEP.
The funding to purchase and distribute these trailers and the equipment is provided from the Oil Spill Act Trust Fund, which has as its source a 2-cent-per-barrel fee on petroleum products shipped through state waterways into local ports.
Each trailer is 20 feet long by 8 feet wide and is divided into three storage compartments containing varying sizes and types of containment and absorbent boom; oil sorbent pads; speedy dry; inflatable bladders; portable generator; electric air compressor; anchors, anchor chains; buoys; tools (sledge hammer, spade); safety/personal safety equipment (lights, caution tape, first aid kit, boots), ropes, ties, cables and a padlock.