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Environmental response training takes place in Rogers City

ExxonMobil employees team up with the Coast Guard to deploy 500 feet of deflection boom in the Houston Ship Channel. During the simulation, these boom lines were placed in six areas to contain the oil spill.
ExxonMobil employees team up with the Coast Guard to deploy 500 feet of deflection boom in the Houston Ship Channel. During the simulation, these boom lines were placed in six areas to contain the oil spill.

The U.S. Coast Guard Sector Sault Sainte Marie is conducting a full-scale environmental response training Thursday at the Carmeuse facility in Rogers City, testing its operations for emergency pollution calls.

According to a press release, the training will include work with oil spill response equipment, unmanned aerial vehicles and response watercraft on Lake Huron.

Brian Streichert is the Sector Sault Sainte Marie’s Emergency Manager. He said these kinds of training exercises are meant to test the response plans to make sure they work and to continually improve them.

“It's not to say, ‘hey, look how great we did.’” Streichert said. “We look for the flaws so that we can improve on those. And then we do what's called ‘after action reports’. And in those reports, they talk about … [what areas] we need some more training in…”

The coast guard is partnering with members of the Northern Michigan Area Committee which includes over 80 agencies such as NOAA, Fish and Wildlife Department of Natural Resources, local Tribes, and the U.S. EPA.

Streichert said with so many different government and commercial agencies involved, training is important – to make sure everybody is on the same page.

Operation “Frog Pond” is the title of this training exercise to refer to the area the barges will be loading and unloading equipment– not an actual frog pond, Streichert clarified.

Streichert explained how people can call the National Response Center (NRC) to report a pollution issue. A facility would initiate a response plan within minutes of receiving the call, he said.

During operation “Frog Pond”, a scenario is created which mimics a worst-case discharge, in which a mobile facility empties an entire container of stored oil, Streichert said.

To create this scenario, the coast guard will be using a dye in the lake to depict what the oil spill would look like while administering the protocols they would typically take to handle the situation.

Streichert said these operations stem back to the Oil Pollution Act of 1990. According to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the act was created to enforce the removal of spilled oil and to avoid oil spills in general.

“There were many lessons learned that brought us to where we're at today,” Streichert said. “So, exercising these type of things before anything ever happens, this helps. This is what helps you build your relationships with your locals, state, federal entities, your Tribes … this is what brings us all together.

Streichert said it is important to address the efforts of the design team – which consists of federal, state responders and local Tribe members.

“It's amazing what these groups can come up with, and how well they kind of come together during these events,” he said. “And again, this is a testament to everybody's willingness to keep our Great Lakes pristine.”

The Northern Michigan Area Committee meets twice a year to discuss the next potential release for training in areas that have the most concerns with oil spills.

After a site is chosen, it is the focus for four years, Streichert said. In 2019, the coast guard began working in Rogers City by doing workshop exercises, then in 2020 they did tabletop exercises to test mechanics.

The third year consists of equipment deployment during which vendors come out to demonstrate their tools. In the fourth year, the full-scale training exercises are executed.

Streichert said their next destination for the four-year long cycle of training is in U.S. Route 2 Cut River Bridge.