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Coast Guard, Alameda Fire Department, Unresponsive On Questions About Delay in Responding to Oil Spill

Dead bird in the water at Barnhill Marina. (Liz Williams)

Dead bird in the water at Barnhill Marina. (Liz Williams)

Neither the United States Coast Guard nor the Alameda Fire Department have responded to email queries asking why clean-up response waited overnight last week, after reports of an oily sheen on the water in the estuary near Alameda Marina.

Just after 9pm on Tuesday, February 10th, the Alameda Fire Department responded to a report of a possible fuel spill in the water on the estuary. According to a Nixle community alert, “crews at the scene were able to see a product floating on the water, possibly fuel, in the Oakland Estuary. They were unable to determine the source of the product, or the size of involvement in the Estuary.”

The fire department then turned the matter over to Coast Guard, which apparently didn’t send response crews until Wednesday morning.

Tide chart for February 10th to 11th. (

Tide chart for February 10th to 11th. (

By that time, low tide had come at about 9:50pm on Tuesday evening, followed by high-tide at 4:31am on Wednesday morning.

That’s enough time for the tide to have agitated whatever substance was in the water, and spread it further throughout the estuary, said Barnhill Marina resident Liz Williams. Barnhill Marina is about 2 miles west of the first-detected spill location.

Neither Alameda Fire Department nor Coast Guard officials have responded to Action Alameda News inquiries about why a clean-up response waited overnight.

Williams gave Action Alameda News a tour of Barnhill over the weekend, and pointed to what she said were trace elements of the spill in the water.

She’s also been publishing photos on Facebook of traces in the water, and of dead birds in the water which she said may or not be related to the spill, but strike her as out of the ordinary.

Williams said that the Coast Guard did take two dead birds to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife for testing.

2 comments to Coast Guard, Alameda Fire Department, Unresponsive On Questions About Delay in Responding to Oil Spill

  • After we published this story, AFD responded, reproduced in its entirety below:

    Thanks for your inquiry.

    As a point of clarification, please realize the AFD Fireboat was not available for this incident. It is in Ontario, CA undergoing warranty repair at the manufacturer.

    You are correct regarding the fireboat having heat-sensing equipment to find people in the water at night. The fireboat does also have spot and floodlights.

    That being said, it is very likely that if the fireboat could have been deployed to this incident, no additional information or mitigation actions could have been gathered or implemented for the following reasons:

    The fireboat is primarily equipped for water rescue and marine firefighting
    The fireboat does not carry, or have access to Haz-Mat Booms necessary for large area hazardous materials incidents
    The request from the Coast Guard was to investigate the report of a substance on the water in the area of the Alameda Marina. AFD units were able to see a sheen on the water and detect a diesel fuel-like odor, but unable to immediately find a source or determine its size. It was apparent to AFD crews that the product was already in the water and due to wind, tide and current, had spread throughout a portion the Estuary on the Alameda side. The Coast Guard was advised of these findings by AFD crews assigned to the response and those same crews made the required notifications to appropriate federal, state and local agencies. The Coast Guard, having jurisdiction and responsibility for this navigable waterway made the decision to further evaluate this at daylight the next morning and develop a mitigation plan. The Coast Guard released AFD from the scene and stated they would send a response team out in the morning.

    With a wide, tidal area like the Estuary, using effective booming devices can be a challenge for local fire agencies. Last year, we were able to use a small Haz-Mat Boom for an incident at the Ballena Bay Marina. It was brought by Oakland Fire as a mutual aid response ( The deployment of this particular Haz-Mat Boom was a viable option at this incident because the area at Ballena Bay Marina has narrow entrances, as compared to the Oakland Estuary. The Haz-Mat Boom Oakland Fire has is only 900′ long. This is not large enough to be effective for the incident at the Estuary. The Coast Guard, and its contractors, is best equipped for this type of mitigation.

    I hope this response to your email clarifies any concerns you may have had.

    James Colburn, Captain
    Alameda Fire Department
    1300 Park Street
    Alameda, CA 94501

  • Coast Guard officials responded to say they had no record of our e-mail inquiry sent to the address published on their press release on the spill. (

    Adam Stanton, a spokesperson for the Coast Guard in Alameda, said that investigators were responding to a spill in Martinez at around 7:30pm/8pm on the same evening of the Alameda spill, and this delayed the investigative response to the spill in Alameda, which was first reported just after 9pm. To date, the Coast Guard has no definitive conclusion as to the source of the Alameda spill.