By Mike Lednovich
Residents of the historic downtown neighborhood near the Port of Fernandina were stunned Monday morning when they saw huge white sacks spilling cement powder as they were being lifted and stacked into piles.
By Thursday, work crews with Savage Services, the operators of the port, were still dealing with the cleanup of what neighbors reported were 10 to 12 2,000-pound cement bags that had been leaking cement after being off loaded and stacked onto the port grounds.
“This is a trial run of the port handling break bulk cement,” said David Kaufman, executive director of the Port of Fernandina. “Several cement bags broke open during the process of off loading. The port is taking every precaution to make sure the cement does not get onto streets, the river, the wetlands, or the storm system.”
Kaufman said hay bales and boom socks had been placed around storm drains to prevent any of the spilled cement powder from getting into the city’s stormwater system.
He said the Florida Department of Environmental Services had been notified of the situation and “they were pleased on how the port was handling the situation.
They’re coming out again today or tomorrow to follow up,” he said.
Kyle Clark, Savage’s general manager of operations at the port, would not comment about the cement spillage and referred the Observer to Savage’s media director Jeff Hymas in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Hymas said approximately 16,000 tons of bagged, dry cement is currently being stored at the port, with approximately 1.5 tons (3,000 pounds) of dry cement in each bag.
“In about six to eight weeks, another vessel will come to replenish inventory. No special permits are required for storing cement at the port,” Hymas said. “We are not aware of any bags bursting. Some bags have small holes from shipping and handling, which are promptly repaired and any residual material is cleaned up. Residual material, although not hazardous, is promptly cleaned using brooms and vacuums.”
Hymas said all port storm drains are protected, and vacuum street sweepers are being used to mechanically assist with daily cleanup. The small amount of damaged bags will be sent to the landfill. There are no special disposal requirements.
“FDEP is aware of the concrete bags unloaded and stored on site and OHPA is also aware,” Hymas said. “We have SH&E professionals on our team including certified safety professionals, certified industrial hygienists, and an in-house environmental team to ensure the safe and environmentally responsible handling of this material.”
Historic downtown homeowner Tammi Kosack, who lives one block from the port’s east boundary, said she became aware of the port’s effort to import cement at the Ocean Highway Port Authority’s open house last week to review its proposed master plan.
“Mr. Gilbert told me about these big cement bags that would be off loaded and stacked at the port. He said they would be protected with a tarp and that there was an off chance that a bag could possibly break. That was a big red flag to me,” she said.
Gary Klopp, who lives three blocks from the port, said that within the first two hours of off loading Monday morning, neighbors became aware that several cement bags had burst, spilling cement powder. By that afternoon, Klopp said he estimated about eight or more of the enormous cement sacks had been damaged and were leaking cement, based on photos he had taken.
Kosack said, “They were stacking these 5-foot high bags along the fence and the dust was everywhere, all over the ground, the equipment. It was all over the workers, they were covered with it.”
According the OSHA’s website regarding workers handling cement silica dust, employers must assess employee exposures to silica; protect workers from silica exposures over an 8-hour day; limit workers’ access to areas where they could be exposed; use dust controls to protect workers from silica exposures and provide respirators to workers when dust controls cannot limit exposures to the PEL; keep records of exposure measurements, objective data, and medical exams.
Neighbors became more concerned today when the port began to use street-sweeper machines to clean up the powder.
“The sweeper created a huge cloud of cement dust that blew out of the port right across the front of my house,” Klopp said. “As an outsider this looks like the port had no plan in place to handle this type of accident. It’s like they’re just trying one thing after another.”
The cement powder became more problematic according to Kosack because of moisture from early morning fog that ensued during the week.
“It’s harder to clean up when it’s wet,” she said. “We’re lucky the wind wasn’t blowing out of the north because that cement dust would have been all over our neighborhood.”
Klopp was also concerned about the possibility of runoff into the wetlands and natural habitat in the event of rain.
“This is a powder, they’re not going to get it all up 100 percent. If it rains, it’s going to be contaminated runoff into some very sensitive wetlands,” he said.
The cement spills comes just days before OHPA is scheduled to make a presentation of its new master plan before the Fernandina Beach City Commission on Tuesday.
“I know we have to get along with the port. But to bring this cement material into this area, this neighborhood and so close to downtown is wrong. You know people are breathing in small particles of this stuff right now,” Klopp said.
Hymas said Savage Services believes the port and the surrounding areas can co-exist without conflict.
“We are committed to being a good neighbor, being transparent and operating safely at the port,” Hymas said.