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Goleta Declares Emergency Amid Concerns Refugio Oil Spill Could Reach City Beaches

Officials expand no-fishing ban from Gaviota to Coal Oil Point, and bring additional cleanup response crews and equipment to the site

Oil spill response crews deploy booms to collect oil offshore of El Capitan State Beach Thursday afternoon.
Oil spill response crews deploy booms to collect oil offshore of El Capitan State Beach Thursday afternoon.  (Tom Bolton / Noozhawk photo)

Clean-up crews have filled dozens of bins with oil-soaked vegetation since Tuesday's spill at Refugio State Beach. (Tom Bolton / Noozhawk photo)

The Refugio oil spill expanded farther Thursday, leading the City of Goleta to declare a state of emergency based on information that the impacts could hit city beaches. 

As of Thursday night, the spill hadn't reached the Goleta and Isla Vista areas and U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Jennifer Williams said it doesn't appear that the slicks will reach that far south from the source site near Refugio State Beach. 

No Goleta-area beach closures were in effect as of Thursday, but the city was advising people to avoid beach areas. 

The city has been working toward contingency planning since the oil spill was first reported Tuesday afternoon, and the declaration means the city can access and implement any necessary measures to respond, city officials said.

Santa Barbara County and the state also have declared an emergency in response to the oil spill.

[Scroll down to see Goleta's proclamation of a local emergency]

Since the spill was discovered at Refugio State Beach, the multi-agency response effort has grown to include 18 boats deploying booms to skim oil from the ocean surface, and more than 300 trained personnel doing hazardous-materials cleanup on the shoreline, authorities said Thursday. Another 300 responders are expected on Friday. 

The fishery closure near the spill site was expanded Thursday to a 23-by-7-mile area, from Canada de Alegeria on the western end (near Gaviota State Park) to Coal Oil Point on the eastern end, in Isla Vista. It impacts the shoreline and offshore areas up to six miles offshore, effective immediately, to ban taking finfish and shellfish, according to the state. 

The U.S. Coast Guard and Environmental Protection Agency are coordinating the incident response for the federal government, and multiple state and county agencies are involved in the effort, which is the first major use of Santa Barbara County’s Emergency Operations Center.

Workers scour the sand at El Capitan State Beach Thursday afternoon, cleaning up oil that spread east from the spill at Refugio State Beach. (Tom Bolton / Noozhawk photo)

There was still no estimate on the amount of crude oil spilled onto the shoreline and into the ocean, but the company responsible, Plains All American Pipeline, has used 105,000 gallons as a worst-case scenario, with the majority of oil spilled on land.

Investigators from multiple agencies are looking into the cause of the spill and expect to soon excavate the piece of underground pipeline where the spill started, EPA federal on scene incident commander Michelle Rogow said. 

The Department of Fish & Wildlife’s Oil Spill Prevention and Response crews are working with the Oiled Wildlife Care Network to find and rescue wildlife, and six brown pelicans are already being stabilized in a local rehabilitation facility, according to Capt. Mark Crossland.

There have been reports of many dead kelp bass, lobster and other invertebrates washing up in the oil spill area, he said.

Authorities also reported rescuing a juvenile sea lion that was 35 percent covered in oil and was transferred to Sea World in San Diego for treatment. 

Any oiled wildlife should not be touched, but reported to the Oiled Wildlife Care Network at 877.823.6926.

Skimmers and shoreline clean-up teams have recovered more than 9,500 gallons of oil water mixture and additional booms — to collect oil from the water — will be put into use Friday, authorities said. 

All responding agencies are asking locals to go through official channels to volunteer and not go out onto the beaches, which are closed and considered hazardous-materials areas. Incident command for the spill has activated a hotline at 800.228.4544 for volunteers, which will be updated as opportunities become available.

Dozens of clean-up workers were working along the shoreline Thursday afternoon at El Capitan State Beach, removing oil from a spill that occurred on Tuesday. (Tom Bolton / Noozhawk photo)

Local nonprofits are directing people to check CalSpillWatch and California Volunteers for updates as well.

Refugio and El Capitan state beaches are closed, and the parking lots are being used to stage the cleanup efforts on the shoreline.

“We really don’t want to see anybody getting hurt with good intentions,” Crossland said.

There could be progress seen in the first week or two of cleanup, but it can take months to restore a site to its original condition after a crude oil spill, Williams said. 

She said some oil in the water will naturally dissipate and some will sink to the bottom over time, which is considered in the cleanup strategy.

Weather can be a challenge, as boat skimming had to be canceled Thursday night due to high winds and waves, she said. Time is always a big concern in a response, with the focus of getting people and equipment to the scene as fast as possible, she added. 

"You're just fighting the clock."

There will be lane closures on northbound Highway 101 near Refugio State Beach during clean-up operations, especially when crews are flushing out the Caltrans culvert, which oil traveled through between the burst pipe and the ocean. 

Noozhawk news editor Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

Goleta Proclamation of Local Emergency - Oil Spill May 21, 2015 by Giana Magnoli

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