Members of the Golden Ray incident response team say the wreckage in the St. Simons Sound has caused little environmental harm.
Last week marked a year since the 656-foot car hauler tipped over in the sound.
The salvaging crew is nearly ready to start scrapping the ship — cut it up into five sections and clean up the pieces — but it is waiting for the most active period of hurricane season to pass. The cutting process is scheduled to begin in October.
“We have not found any exceedance of state environmental standards of contaminants we believe to be from the Golden Ray,” John Maddox, emergency response manager with the Department of Natural Resources, told the Glynn County Commission at its Tuesday work session.
He acknowledged the DNR has received a handful of reports of oily shrimp and pictures of fish with oil on them. So far, DNR has traced the issue to sources other than the Golden Ray or found the source unidentifiable.
“I hesitate to say that we haven’t had any impacts. There is some oil that’s been released, but as far as state environmental standards, we have not had any exceedances,” Maddox said. “We haven’t had any impacts to the local fishery or the health of the ecosystem or the marsh that need to be remediated, or haven’t come back to baseline conditions.”
Areas which have suffered obvious impacts from oil have been addressed and little evidence remains, he added.
When the cutting begins, Gallagher Director of Response Services Chris Graff said several tactics to corral potential pollutants and contaminants are being employed, including layers of netting and an oil boom around the wreck.
There also will be trawlers to clean debris from the sound floor, teams cleaning the shoreline, and a drone surveillance team watching for escaped debris.
“This is not going to be a clean and easy operation,” Graff said.
The team also is taking into account COVID-19, said Coast Guard Lt. Commander Dan Donovan. Workers are being isolated at sites like Epworth by the Sea to avoid coronavirus exposure.
“Basically, we are creating bubbles that our response and salvage teams will be sequestered to and cut off outside influence,” Donovan said.
Commissioners also were updated on a shoreline protection and implementation plan prepared by a task force made up of local officials and representatives from state agencies and environmental groups.
Recommendations include elevating roads on St. Simons Island, elevating buildings in the city and relocating wastewater treatment plants to focus on the creation of “living shorelines,” sea walls, rock revetments, dunes and beach renourishment, among many others.
The plan also recommends that Glynn County Schools relocate or elevate Glynn Academy to avoid impacts of sea-level rise.
Projects could be funded with grant money, Downs said.
The next step is a plan to mitigate the effects of sea-level rise.
Commissioners also heard updates on an overhaul of the Glynn County Airport Commission’s ordinances, the Glynn County Police Department’s vehicle take-home policy and a request from the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension to help fund a new position.