Monday, December 11, 2023

6 days after fuel spill, Virginia Beach is still in recovery ’emergency phase’

Erin Sutton, the city's deputy emergency management coordinator, details the NAS Oceana jet fuel spill to Virginia Beach city council Tuesday, May 16.
Erin Sutton, deputy emergency management coordinator, details the NAS Oceana jet fuel spill to Virginia Beach city council Tuesday, May 16. (Justin Belichis/Southside Daily)

VIRGINIA BEACH — Almost a week after oil seeped into local waterways, the city is still in an “emergency phase” as crews continue to recover fuel.

Erin Sutton, the city’s deputy emergency management coordinator, updated city council on recovery efforts Tuesday afternoon.

“Once we get to the point that there’s no more recoverable fuel, they’ll move into the “remediation phase,” and that’s where the Department of Environmental Quality takes over jurisdiction of this,” Sutton said.

It’s been six days since a leak at the Naval Air Station Oceana Bulk Fuel Farm spilled 94,000 gallons of JP-5 jet fuel, which resulted in neighboring waterways getting contaminated with a portion of the oil.

Last week Captain Kevin Carroll, Deputy Sector Commander with the Coast Guard, said the jet fuel was blocked off and contained at Wolfsnare Creek where workers are removing the oil from the water.

Sutton told city council that the heat helps evaporate the fuel, but that the odor rises significantly. She also said that the city still keeps in touch with residents who live near the contaminated areas to answer their concerns and pass out educational information.

Although officials from the Navy, state and city departments offered information on impacted communities and current conditions, a crowd of residents plagued by fumes and adverse effects made their way to London Bridge Baptist Church on Monday afternoon to get more answers.

“They more or less gave details of info they thought that we might want to know instead of info we needed to know,” said Mark Lam, a resident who lives on Arrowfield Road, an area close to where United States Coast Guard clean-up crews tracked fuel to.

According to Lam, he has seen workers dressed in hazmat protective gear on his street since the incident happened, while other residents reported seeing workers blocking off parts of their neighborhood without providing information.

“It’s ground zero for a chemical spill,” Lam continued. “It’s being underplayed as a not serious situation and I think that’s specific to make us ignore the situation so that we will eventually get over it. It’s hard to get over something like that when you’re smelling toxic fumes 24/7 in your home.”

City Manager Dave Hansen said the city’s hazmat team, firefighters and public works jumped into instinct mode to help out with the fuel spill recovery.

Hansen said he’s aware of residents’ concern and is looking forward to hearing from the Navy about how they can assist residents by temporarily relocating them.

“We’re looking to see some additional information on the heels of last night’s public information meeting from the Navy, and how they’re going to provide relief to those most affected,” Hansen said.

“For those citizens out there, I certainly feel for them, what they’re going through. It’s got to be a fairly obnoxious environment.”

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