Huntington Beach to reopen after water quality tests show no detectable levels of oil-associated toxins in sea water
Huntington Beach, Calif. (AP) — A Southern California beach that was closed last week following a crude oil spill in ocean waters is set to reopen Monday, officials announced Sunday night.
City and state beaches in Huntington Beach will reopen after water quality testing revealed no detectable levels of oil-associated toxins in ocean waters, the City of Huntington Beach and California State Parks said in a statement. said in the news release. They are still urging visitors to avoid areas where the oil smells and not touch any of the oily substances that wash away the ashes.
The news will likely delight surfers and beach-goers like Richard Beach, who returned to the waves in Huntington Beach with their bodyboards – until lifeguard jet skis followed them on Sunday. He trekked back across the beach, tasking workers in hazmat suits to clean the sand of sticky, dark spots that turned ashore after the spill.
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“The water is perfect,” said Beach, 69. “Clean all the way to the bottom.”
Huntington Beach and nearby coastal communities are grappling with last week’s spill, officials said, sending at least 25,000 gallons (95,000 liters) and no more than 132,000 gallons (500,000 liters) of oil into the sea. It was caused by a leak about 5 miles (8 kilometers) off shore in a pipeline owned by Houston-based Amplify Energy, which shuttles crude oil from offshore oil platforms to shore.
The leak was confirmed on October 2, a day after residents reported a petroleum smell in the area. The cause is being investigated and officials said they believe the pipeline was likely damaged several months to a year before a ship’s anchorage. It remains unknown when oil began to seep through a thin, 13-inch (33-centimeter) crack in the pipeline.
On Sunday, there was no smell of oil and the sand looked largely clear from the Huntington Beach pier, where workers combed the sand for tar. But local officials are concerned about the spill’s environmental impact on wetlands, wildlife and the economy. In a community called Surf City USA bordering the ocean, relatively few people were on the beach and the shops that cater to them have been hurt.
Officials in the city of 200,000 people are testing the water to make sure people are safe to return and said they will continue testing for at least two more weeks.
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Since the spill, residents have been allowed to walk on the sand in Huntington Beach but not on the shoreline or in the water, and parking for nearby state beaches has been closed. Popular surfing and swimming spots in Newport Beach and Laguna Beach have also been closed.
In Huntington Beach, shops selling everything from bikinis and star-and-stripes boogie boards to sand toys and fishing gear are taking a hit. Marion Johnson, owner of “Let’s Go Fishing” at the pier, said sales have halved since the spill.
Mike Ali, the owner of Jack’s nearby shop, said he had to close three of his four locations and cut his staff’s hours since the water shutdown. With people flocking to bike rentals and dining at one of their stores, which remain open but without surf lessons, event catering and beach bonfires, business has fallen by 90%, he said.
“It could take a year to two years for tourism to come back,” Ali said, adding that the 1990 oil spill would have caused tourists visiting the beaches to the south and north of the city.
Rich Toro, 70, still took his regular 25-mile (40-kilometer) bike ride to Huntington Beach on Sunday. But he said he would not rush to return to the water in light of the spill and would worry about the impact on wildlife. Since the incident, officials have reported 38 dead birds and nine dead fish, while 27 oiled birds have been recovered and are being treated.
On Sunday mornings, only a handful of people played beach volleyball in Huntington Beach, while a few others exercised or lay on the sand.
But that didn’t stop everyone from turning off the water. While fishing is prohibited along nearly all of Orange County’s coast, 29-year-old Michael Arcouleta said he came down from East Los Angeles and saw no signs on the pier stopping him from releasing a line. A school of fish swam at the bottom of a nearby pier.
“If it were so dangerous, the fish would die,” said Arcoleta.