Eglin organizations prepare for potential environmental, mission impacts after oil spill

Jonathan Kramer, Jordan Gibson, and Tony Schmucker of Brown, Burdine and
Associates collect sand samples from Eglin property on Santa Rosa Island using a stainless steel hand auger. The base is collecting samples and documentation to establish a baseline condition of the 18 miles of Santa Rosa Island that Eglin controls along with the miles of shoreline along Choctawhatchee Bay to ensure the base has a strong understanding of its coastal natural resources.  (Photo by Casey Anderson.)

Jonathan Kramer, Jordan Gibson, and Tony Schmucker of Brown, Burdine and Associates collect sand samples from Eglin property on Santa Rosa Island using a stainless steel hand auger. The base is collecting samples and documentation to establish a baseline condition of the 18 miles of Santa Rosa Island that Eglin controls along with the miles of shoreline along Choctawhatchee Bay to ensure the base has a strong understanding of its coastal natural resources. (Photo by Casey Anderson.)

Melissa Hoover and Jordan Gibson of Brown, Burdine and Associates collect
sediment samples, from Choctawhatchee Bay, using a stainless steel Ponar sampling device. The base is collecting samples and documentation to establish a baseline condition of the 18 miles of Santa Rosa Island that Eglin controls along with the miles of shoreline along Choctawhatchee Bay to ensure the base has a strong understanding of its coastal natural resources.  (Photo by Jonathan Kramer.)

Melissa Hoover and Jordan Gibson of Brown, Burdine and Associates collect sediment samples, from Choctawhatchee Bay, using a stainless steel Ponar sampling device. The base is collecting samples and documentation to establish a baseline condition of the 18 miles of Santa Rosa Island that Eglin controls along with the miles of shoreline along Choctawhatchee Bay to ensure the base has a strong understanding of its coastal natural resources. (Photo by Jonathan Kramer.)

Melissa Hoover and Tony Schmucker of Brown, Burdine and Associates collect field samples from wetlands near the Eglin Beach Club on Santa Rosa Island.  Surface water and sediment samples were collected from four separate wetlands on the island. The base is collecting samples and documentation to establish a baseline condition of the 18 miles of Santa Rosa Island that Eglin controls along with the miles of shoreline along Choctawhatchee Bay to ensure the base has a strong understanding of its coastal natural resources.  (Photo by Jordan Gibson.)

Melissa Hoover and Tony Schmucker of Brown, Burdine and Associates collect field samples from wetlands near the Eglin Beach Club on Santa Rosa Island. Surface water and sediment samples were collected from four separate wetlands on the island. The base is collecting samples and documentation to establish a baseline condition of the 18 miles of Santa Rosa Island that Eglin controls along with the miles of shoreline along Choctawhatchee Bay to ensure the base has a strong understanding of its coastal natural resources. (Photo by Jordan Gibson.)

EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- Along with the rest of the communities bordering the Gulf of Mexico, Eglin Air Force Base is hard at work preparing for potential impacts associated with the Deepwater Horizon oil spill off the coast of Louisiana on April 20.

"No one knows for certain how we will be impacted, or even if we will, but we're going through all the possibilities to ensure we're prepared and Eglin's numerous missions continue in any event," said Col. Dave Maharrey, 96th Civil Engineer Group commander.

Actions already taking place include regular "situation reports" from the Civil Engineer Group and the Medical Group. These situation reports vary from daily visual checks of the beaches and coastlines to monitoring water and air quality. However, the main driver for Eglin is mission readiness.

"We have 106 rare or endangered plant and animal species that are found on Eglin. By ensuring these species are protected, we are protecting the mission," said Colonel Maharrey.

Eglin is required by federal law to ensure federally protected species receive special attention. Should those species flounder, regulators may, and have in the past, shut down the military mission until the base can show it has taken steps to correct deficiencies.

Other efforts being implemented include sampling and documenting a baseline condition of the 18 miles of Santa Rosa Island that Eglin controls, along with the miles of shoreline along Choctawhatchee Bay, to ensure the base has a strong understanding of its coastal natural resources.

The 96 CEG Environmental Division is taking samples from multiple locations of Air Force property throughout the coastline. Sampling of the surface and deep sand will take place on the beach, air will be sampled using the Environmental Protection Agency station data, and well-water from Santa Rosa Island will be monitored by the 96th Medical Group's Bio-Environmental Engineering section. Interstitial ponds and marshes that contain critical habitat and bayside wetlands will also be sampled.

This will be the most comprehensive testing to date of the trace organics, minerals and metals of the island. The type of sampling is the same as has been done on beaches in Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas by the EPA in preparation for eventual spill damage assessment.

To date, Eglin has not experienced impacts from the oil spill, but if the oil does come, Eglin will be ready to respond.

"We're documenting everything now so we have a solid baseline of knowledge," said Maria Rodriguez, 96th Environmental Management Division Stewardship Chief.

"This is important to Eglin not just because of potential impacts from oil, but also for new missions that want to come here in the future," she said. "We'll know what our environment is capable of sustaining."