Boaters are asked to exercise caution when traveling through the St. Andrew Pass, as work began Wednesday on a more "robust" booming system for the channel after conventional booming measures in counties to the west have been deemed insufficient.
The Bay County Commission unanimously approved the supplemental booming strategy at a special meeting Tuesday afternoon.
Crews started work on driving the first of 18 42-inch steel pilings and eight pile "dolphins" (each consisting of three pilings attached together with a cap on them).
The pilings vary in length depending on the depth of the water, and extend at least 10 feet above the mean high tide level.
The boom is comprised of 30-inch diameter, two-inch thick high-density polyethylene (HDPE) pipe and will have a 48-inch long HDPE fabric weighted skirt hanging below the pipe.
In the middle of the channel, a 400-foot hinged boom gate will allow for opening or closing the pass and diverting the oil products to the sides, where skimming vessels will be used on either side of the project to collect oil.
The hinged boom in the center of the pass will allow boat traffic to come and go with the outgoing tide and will be closed to traffic with the incoming tide, if oil is actively being removed from the area.
"One of the major lessons we've learned," Bay County Public Works Director Ken Schnell said, "is that the conventional booming to the west of us has been very difficult to maintain in open channels."
Bay County worked with AshBritt, a Florida-based disaster response company, to develop the rigid booming plan for the pass. Bay County engineers as well as ocean and coastal engineers devised the plan.
The overall cost for the project is $2.8 million, with an operational and maintenance cost of $8,300 per day, Schnell said.
Assuming cooperative weather, it would take about 23 days from now to complete.
Bay County has worked in concert with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Coast Guard, the Port Authority and other stakeholders to coordinate this plan.
Permit applications were submitted Friday, Schnell said. The county received permits prior to beginning work.
The new, rigid booming plan evolved after various booming strategies to the west have not been sufficient, though funding the operation, for now, is coming out of county coffers.
Bay County Emergency Services Chief Mark Bowen said none of the state or federal agencies have given any negative feedback about the plan and he's optimistic that the county will be reimbursed.
"Everything that can be done has been done," he said. "We may well see approval come well before we finish this project."
The Tier 1, 2 and 3 booming plans will still be exercised, Bowen said.