County officials get update on port fire

·3 min read

Jun. 16—The state fire marshal has issued a report about the fire at the Georgia Ports Authority's East River Terminal in Brunswick, where a wood pellet fire broke out six weeks ago.

The port authority's chief administrative officer, James McCurry, Jr., told Glynn County commissioners at a workshop Tuesday that there were concerns about the height of the stacks of pellets and how they were managed.

McCurry also expressed concerns about the low water pressure when firefighters battled the blaze.

He said the pellets cannot be stored outside because they break down when exposed to water. He said the volume of pellets will be limited in the existing building where they are stored.

When asked if the building where the fire broke out will be replaced, McCurry said port authority officials just got the state fire marshal's report Monday and they haven't decided what to do next.

The Brunswick port continues to play an important role in Georgia's economy, creating 1,852 full-time and part-time jobs, and generating more that $10 million in state and local taxes. Recent work at the three facilities in Brunswick, Mayor's Point, East River Terminal and Colonel's Island, include doubling the rail capacity and completion of a new access road.

U.S. Coast Guard Cmdr. Efren Lopez updated commissioners at the meeting about the ongoing salvage of the 656-foot cargo ship Golden Ray, which capsized in the St. Simons Sound between Jekyll and St. Simons islands Sept. 8, 2019.

Half of the ship has been cut into four sections and hauled away on barges to Louisiana to be salvaged.

Work on section three, the portion of the ship currently being cut, began six weeks ago before work was suspended after a welder's torch ignited a fire. Cutting is expected to resume later this week or early next week, Lopez said.

"Our plan continues to be to remove the wreck," he said. "We faced a lot of situations we were unaware of. We anticipate to continue to have these situations."

Work was temporarily suspended last summer, but Lopez said hurricane season, while a factor, was not the main reason to stop. COVID-19 had a bigger impact.

"We have no intentions to stop operations (during hurricane season)," he said.

Lopez was unable to give a cost estimate of the salvage operation, saying the work was a "first of its kind" project.

It's uncertain how much fuel remains in the ship and in the remaining vehicles inside. The search of slicks of oil and fuel are conducted by air and cleanup crews. After the last portion of the shipwreck is removed, an environmental cleanup will be conducted.

Commissioner Cap Fendig praised the Coast Guard's response to the shipwreck, saying officials responsible for the cleanup have been honest and proactive.

On an unrelated matter, representatives from the environmental group One Hundred Miles asked commissioners to consider banning Styrofoam containers — coolers in particular — from beaches in the Golden Isles.

Mackenzie Buck told commissioners polystyrene is a "key player in pollution."

"This is nothing radical or new," she said. "It's about getting the community on board. Those coolers don't make it off the beach."

Buck said enforcement will be difficult but the answer is using recyclable materials such as paper coolers.

Fendig expressed his support for the proposal.

"Syrofoam is a problem," he said. "The only issue is enforcement."

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