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Published: 2015-02-24 00:00:00

A major marine oil spill exercise will be carried out on and beside the Waikato River at Tuakau on Thursday 5 March by Waikato Regional Council’s marine oil spill response team.

Exercise “Sandpit” will model the sinking of a barge carrying oil to an industrial site at Mercer.

Public access to the River Rd reserve by the Tuakau Bridge on state highway 22 will be restricted during the exercise which is due to run from 9.30am till 5pm.

People are requested to remain outside the cordoned-off work site area. Anyone not involved in the exercise will only be able to enter the restricted area if they have both steel cap boots and a high-visibility vest on, have had a safety briefing, and are accompanied by a regional council staff member. However, the boat ramp in the area will remain open to the public and there will be a designated place for media and the public to observe the exercise.

Regional on scene commander Dave Lovatt said a major exercise such as “Sandpit” was held annually by the council. The exercise is funded by the Oil Pollution Fund administered by Maritime New Zealand.

“Exercise Sandpit will involve up to 25 responders, three vessels and other agencies’ staff associated with emergency response,” said Mr Lovatt.

“It will give us a great opportunity to test the efficiency of our response to a big spill situation on the river.

“In a real life accident we would aim to contain and clear up a spill as soon as possible to ensure public safety and protect the environment. We would use the likes of booms (floating curtains or fences) on the water to control oil flows into a containment area where skimmers can recover the oil.

“Exercising helps ensure that our planning for an actual event is appropriate and gives us an opportunity to fine tune things if any issues are identified.”

Mr Lovatt said the importance of exercising regularly has been highlighted in recent years by the spilling of 20 tonnes of waste oil into the Awakino River after a tanker crash, and by fuel and oil leaks after pleasure boat sinkings off the Coromandel coast.

“Not only can these sorts of incidents have an environmental cost - sinkings on the Coromandel have seen shellfish farms threatened meaning potential economic consequences as well.

“So it’s important for us to make sure our response plans remain fit for purpose under a range of circumstances and that staff have up to date response training,” said Mr Lovatt.