By Alexis R. Milan Staff Reporter
The Department of the Environment (DOE) is currently in the process of addressing problems of oil spills by updating and revising the National Oil Spill Contingency Plan through meetings with relevant stakeholders.
Maxine Monsanto, acting senior environmental officer for DOE, explained to The Reporter that since the start of the year the department has been in discussions and meetings with key stakeholders to update the Contingency Plan on how to respond to emergency situations involving oil spills.
Monsanto indicated that currently the department is gathering data and is expected to host another meeting in the near future. The meetings being held at this point are tailored specifically for first responders but include over 40 stakeholders from the private sector, academic community, non-governmental community and government entities.
Monsanto explained that the National Oil Spill Contingency Plan, as part of the National Emergency Management Organization’s (NEMO) Hazard Management Plan, is still in draft stage and as a result the department conducts a revision every two-to-three years. The last revision was done in 2011.
Monsanto said the department hopes to have completed the exercise by the end of the year.
Belize Port Authority Chief Executive Officer Arturo Vasquez also recently addressed reported problems of oil slicks in the Port’s harbour with The Reporter. According to Vasquez, he was not aware of such a problem and said he had received no complaints about such occurrences but he did say that the Port has measures in place to address such issues.
According to Vasquez, the Port has a representative that works along with the DOE on the revising of the National Oil Spill Contingency Plan. Vasquez also asserted that the Port has a Health and Safety Department assigned to handling issues such as oil slicks.
Vasquez said that while their department may not be fully equipped to handle all challenges the Port has made a conscious effort to minimize the risks of oil spills by designating a specific area for handling oil products and waste.
Vasquez added that as recent as a month ago the Port, in collaboration with the Belize Fire Department, held a fire drill to prepare their staff for instances of emergency. Vasquez said the Port holds periodic drills.
Marco Leal, environmental technician for DOE, explained that the department usually holds monthly inspections at establishments that frequently handle oil products but due to being under-resourced those inspections have been less frequent.
Leal explained that in cases where an oil spill is reported at an establishment, the DOE would visit that establishment and give them a fair opportunity to address the problem.
Leal said the DOE would negotiate with the establishment and give recommendations for the establishment to comply with.
Once the recommendations are complied with and the problem is fixed the department is satisfied but if the department isn’t satisfied that establishment is likely to face penalties under the Environmental Protection Act.