Thursday, February 22 , 2018, 1:02 am | Fair 39º


Local News

Bill Macfadyen: Oil Spill Waters Run Deep, and That’s What We’re Afraid Of

Before filling up on a gas station design, NoozWeek’s Top 5 finds a dead body in a crashed car, tracks a gruesome apparent suicide and rescues a badly injured bicyclist

The most famous photograph in Noozhawk history.
The most famous photograph in Noozhawk history. (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo)

There were 101,916 people who read Noozhawk this past week. We welcome all readers to the debate over your top stories — regardless of where you stand in the polls.

1. Cleanup Under Way for Large Oil Spill Near Refugio State Beach​

An underground pipeline was discovered ruptured May 19 near Refugio State Beach west of Goleta. Unfortunately for just about everyone and everything, an estimated 105,000 gallons of crude oil spilled out before it could be shut down.

The less-bad news is that most of the spill remained on land, where cleanup and remediation are more precise.

The potentially catastrophic news is that quite a lot of the spill still flowed downhill through a drainage culvert underneath Highway 101 and the railroad tracks ... right into the ocean. Once in water, oil can spread easily, erratically and elusively.

It did, and still is.

As of the morning of May 22, authorities said oil slicks covered about nine square miles of the Santa Barbara Channel.

As a precaution, 161 square miles have been declared off-limits to fishing and much recreation. The expanse is between Coal Oil Point near Isla Vista west to Canada de Alegeria near Gaviota State Park, and roughly seven miles out to sea.

State beaches in the area are closed for the ordinarily jam-packed Memorial Day weekend, and Goleta officials declared a state of emergency while nervously watching the shoreline for signs of encroachment. So far, so good, however.

The multiagency spill response has grown to include nearly two dozen boats deploying oil-skimming booms, and more than 600 trained haz-mat cleanup personnel onshore. 

The U.S. Coast Guard and the Environmental Protection Agency are coordinating the federal effort, and multiple state and Santa Barbara County agencies are involved, as well.

State Department of Fish & Wildlife’s Oil Spill Prevention and Response crews are working with the Oiled Wildlife Care Network at UC Davis to locate and rescue wildlife. Authorities advised that oiled animals should not be touched, but reported to the network by calling 1.877.823.6926.

An assortment of agencies is investigating the breach of the 24-inch pipeline, which is operated by Houston-based Plains All American Pipeline.

The line — which was constructed in 1987 and, according to company officials, was inspected as recently as two weeks ago — carries crude oil north from ExxonMobil’s Las Flores Canyon processing facility. It was operating at full capacity at the time of the spill, Plains spokesman Darren Palmer said.

Plains officials have taken responsibility for the leak, and have said the company will pay for the response operation. Any fines, fees and/or settlements likely will take months — if not years — to negotiate and litigate.

As our Giana Magnoli reported, county employees actually informed Plains of the problem and county firefighters were the guys who traced the source of the spill back to the pipeline. 

“How come our people had to be the ones to notify them?” asked an incredulous Third District Supervisor Doreen Farr.

That’s a good question, and one we can all look forward to hearing the answer to. As our Lara Cooper reported May 21, Plains apparently has had to do a fair amount of explaining in the past.

Meanwhile, Lara was one of the first journalists to arrive at the scene, and she captured numerous riveting images on camera and video. Click here for a photo gallery.

Among the most poignant of her pictures is the nearby photo, which depicts would-be wildlife good Samaritans Steven Botello and Derek Fisher trying to rescue an oil-coated bird. Alas, they couldn’t reach it.

As national media interest in the story picked up, Noozhawk was deluged with requests for our pictures. Lara’s photo was beamed around the world by Reuters and television news networks, and it made the front page of the Washington Post and ABC’s Good Morning America, among hundreds of other outlets.

Thanks to our Tom Bolton’s​ insistence on mandatory credit, Noozhawk’s​ name is much more recognizable nationally now than it was earlier in the week. And to all of our new readers, thank you for your support.

Check back with Noozhawk for complete spill coverage, including the latest updates. Click here to email me your cell number if you’d like to receive our free NoozAlerts on your phone. And click here for more information about how you can help with the spill cleanup.

A new fatality off Highway 154, but apparently not from the crash. (Santa Barbara County Fire Department photo)
A new fatality off Highway 154, but apparently not from the crash. (Santa Barbara County Fire Department photo)

2. Man Dies After Car Crashes Off Highway 154

A 57-year-old Agoura Hills man was found dead in the Ford Mustang he was driving after the car veered off Highway 154 north of Paradise Road on the morning of May 18.

Authorities believe the man suffered a fatal medical emergency just before the crash.

County Fire Capt. Dave Zaniboni said emergency crews found the man unresponsive and not breathing when they arrived at the northbound crash site.

He said the Coroner’s Office would conduct an autopsy to determine the cause of death. The man’s identity was not immediately released, pending notification of relatives.

Authorities are investigating another apparent ‘suicide by train’ in Santa Barbara. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)
Authorities are investigating another apparent “suicide by train” in Santa Barbara. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

3. Transient Killed by Amtrak Train in Santa Barbara

A transient was run over by an Amtrak passenger train just west of Santa Barbara’s Milpas Street railroad crossing May 20. Authorities say the man died instantly in the midday incident.

“Indications are that it was a suicide, and he intentionally lay down on the tracks,” police Sgt. Riley Harwood told our Josh Molina.

He said the man had been tentatively identified as a 60-year-old transient who was known to officers.

The westbound train was stopped for about 45 minutes so the man’s remains could be removed from the scene.

The Coroner’s Office is handling the investigation of the incident, which appears to be another in a recent spate of apparent “suicides by train” in the corridor.

Click here for free suicide prevention resources that are available 24 hours a day, or call 1.800.273.8255.

4. Injured Cyclist Airlifted to Santa Barbara Hospital

Two bicyclists, participating in a 630-mile ride to San Diego from San Francisco, ran into each other in the Lompoc Valley on May 20. One of the cyclists suffered major head trauma and had to be flown to Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital for treatment.

As our Janene Scully reported, the crash happened just before 11 a.m. near the intersection of Highway 1 and North H Street.

Lompoc Fire Chief Kurt Latipow said a county helicopter happened to be in the area so the aircraft made a beeline for the hospital, with a flight-qualified county Fire Department paramedic along to administer care in the air.

“​It was one of those times when everything came together,”​ Latipow said.

The injured cyclist’s identity and condition were not disclosed.

Both riders are members of the private Navy Cycling Club, which includes active-duty personnel, military retirees and civilians.

Whose convenience is in store for this business anyway? (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)
Whose convenience is in store for this business anyway? (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

5. Carrillo Street Gas Station Design Raises Concerns at Santa Barbara Planning Commission

Downtown Santa Barbara has a grand total of two gas stations.

One of them sports the requisite Santa Barbara style of white stucco and red-tile roof. It even has a balcony to add further charm to its otherwise industrial use.

But USA Gas at 340 W. Carrillo St. — just about the first thing you see when driving into downtown on that gateway entrance — looks more like the full-service station it once was: Basically nondescript, and heavy on the frosted glass panels, especially where the long-ago abandoned mechanics’ bays used to be.

The place recently was sold and the new ownership wants to complete the conversion of its interior into a full mini-mart, modifying the service bays with aluminum and glass windows, and adding landscaping outside. The idea is to make it look more inviting and obvious to potential customers, a concept that actually is considered mainstream in many parts of the country.

The proposal came before the Planning Commission and, wouldn’t you know it, one of the appointees appeared to question why the panel couldn’t require the business to conform to the city’s ​El Pueblo Viejo District design guidelines.

“This is an area of town that demands a better project than this will be,” commissioner Mike Jordan said, apparently in all seriousness. “The sense I am getting from this project is that it is all about resignation.

“Something is there in appearance right now and we are just going to make it better, and we are resigned to the fact that we can’t bring it up to our normal standards within (El Pueblo Viejo).”

Commissioner June Pujo disagreed. According to our Josh Molina, she noted that the gas station’s permit does not constitute a project and that it’s not starting from scratch.

“It would be difficult for me to require a complete remodel that would meet the standards of EPV,” she said.

“I just don’t think that ... allowing the internal tenant improvements for a mini-mart really gives us that kind of nexus to basically start over with the design of the gas station.”

Common sense prevailed, and the commission ended up approving the conditional-use permit on a 5-2 vote. Commissioner and former Mayor Sheila Lodge joined Jordan in dissent.

                                                                 •        •        •

Bill Macfadyen’s Story of the Week, from my peripatetic tour of the World Wide Web ... and beyond: 4 Ways Elevators Will Get Totally Insane in 2016. This will leave you floored — and grateful that our local ups and downs are low profile.

                                                                 •        •        •

It hasn’t been a good week for local wildlife so how about some happy news: A freshly hatched — as in minutes old — snowy plover chick, born May 20 at UC Santa Barbara’s Coal Oil Point Reserve. HT to my friend, Mo McFadden of Hack & Flack Ink, AKA McFadden & McFadden P.R.

(Maureen McFadden video)

                                                                  •        •        •

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— Bill Macfadyen is Noozhawk’s founder and publisher. Contact him at [email protected], follow him on Twitter: @noozhawk, or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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