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How to Help During the Refugio Oil Spill Cleanup

Authorities are asking people to keep checking volunteer hotlines for opportunities to help, sign up for training sessions

Volunteers filled buckets with oil from the spill at Refugio State Beach on Wednesday, but officials say the well-intentioned efforts are not helping and are asking the public to stay away from the spill area for now.
Volunteers filled buckets with oil from the spill at Refugio State Beach on Wednesday, but officials say the well-intentioned efforts are not helping and are asking the public to stay away from the spill area for now. (Senerey de los Santos / KEYT photo)

Santa Barbara County is known for its environmental activism, and residents are understandably eager to help with the cleanup of the Refugio State Beach oil spill.

But authorities keep stressing that, at least for now, they want people to leave the cleanup and wildlife rescue to the professionals. Volunteer training started being offered May 25 and more opportunities and information can be found on the CalSpillWatch website

The spill, caused by a ruptured Plains All American Pipeline 24-inch crude-oil pipeline on Tuesday, has coated the beach at Refugio and spread out to nine square miles of ocean.

The pipeline itself was shut off by 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, and investigators from the Environmental Protection Agency and Pipeline Hazardous Materials Safety Administration are on scene to find the cause of the spill and stop additional oil from making its way to the beach.

Hundreds of responders arrived on scene Wednesday and more were expected Thursday, including more cleanup contractors from Clean Seas and Patriot Services, which are taking out boats to do booming and collect oil in the ocean.

Late Wednesday, Plains officials announced they got approval to do cleanup efforts around the clock, and will have hundreds of people in white hazardous materials suits doing shoreline cleanup Thursday, in addition to nighttime operations.

Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency for Santa Barbara County on Wednesday, pledging state resources to help respond to the spill. 

Volunteers showed up at Refugio State Beach throughout the second day of oil spill response, some with buckets and shovels as they worked to remove oil from the sandy areas.

The concern is appreciated, authorities said, but they want well-intentioned volunteers to stay away from the areas closed off to the public.

“What we’re finding is people are coming to the beach, they want to help either with the clean-up or help locate wildlife that could be impacted, and while we appreciate their concern, they can actually hamper the clean-up effort and the investigation,” Santa Barbara County sheriff’s spokeswoman Kelly Hoover said.

The unified incident command decided to close the beach — which is considered a hazardous-materials area — and deputies were at the scene asking people to leave the area.

“We’re asking for the public’s cooperation to stay off the beach because we don’t want any of the hazardous materials to be spread around,” Hoover said.

Cleanup crews collect bags of oil and sand during the multi-agency spill response effort at Refugio State Beach on Wednesday. (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo)

If people interfere with the clean-up or investigation, they are subject to arrest, she added.

Incident command for the spill has set up a hotline at 800.228.4544 for volunteers, which will be updated as opportunities become available.

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

The Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Oil Spill Response and Prevention is adding additional response crews, and is working with the Oiled Wildlife Care Network to catch and care for wildlife affected by the spill, Capt. Mark Crossland said.

“Be a good witness,” DFW warden Santos Cabral said.

Members of the public are asked to call the Oiled Wildlife Care Network at 877.823.6926.

“We appreciate the public’s desire to volunteer and understand their concern,” OSPR said in a statement Wednesday.

The organization is not asking for volunteers in the oil spill response effort right now.

“Please do not pick up oiled wildlife; you can cause more harm than good,” the agency said.

The SB Wildlife Care Network will be stabilizing birds brought in by California Department of Fish & Wildlife staff, getting them warm before being transferred to another facility, said June Taylor of SBWCN.

Fish and Wildlife officials will then transfer the animals down to the International Bird Rescue organization in San Pedro, which responded to the BP oil spill and has the experience and facilities to take care of the animals, Taylor said.

“We’ve got it under control,” she added. 

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.

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