Thursday, May 24 , 2018, 6:26 am | Overcast 58º



Oil Spill Off County Coast Impacts Local Business, Tourism

The oil has stopped leaking into the ocean off Santa Barbara County’s coastline, but it’s merely the beginning of efforts made by local business and tourism leaders to quell misinformation.

Since Tuesday’s spill, travelers have been calling into Santa Barbara hotels trying to cancel reservations, believing the oil slick that originated 20 miles north at Refugio State Beach was already upon the coastal city’s beaches.

It definitely is not, was the message Santa Barbara Chamber of Commerce President/CEO Ken Oplinger wanted to get out Thursday.

That’s the point Visit Santa Barbara was trying to convey, too — until Thursday.

After the City of Goleta, about 10 miles west, declared a state of emergency in case the miles-long oil slick reaches its beaches, local leaders scrambled to develop new messaging headed into the long Memorial Day holiday weekend.

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

“This is a major natural catastrophe for the coastline north of us,” Oplinger told Noozhawk. “It’s really going to be a long-term issue for us. This is major news, and I don’t think we truly understand what this means.

“I think the issue now is, if all that is wrong, and we’re going to have oil on the beaches here, we have to figure out what that means.”

Right now, Santa Barbara and Goleta beaches remain open, while beaches and campgrounds up north at Refugio State Beach and El Capitan State Beach are closed until further notice.

Beyond that economic impact, commercial fishermen are also feeling the pinch from a ban on fishing and harvesting shellfish up to six miles into the ocean, west of Coal Oil Point.

The extent of financial impact is unknown, and there is not an accurate estimate of the amount of crude oil spilled.

Visit Santa Barbara is regularly updating its website with information, the latest of which lets visitors know regular beach-going and waterfront activities are happening, and all restaurants, hotels and businesses are still open.

Luckily — and ironically — the last cruise ship visit of the spring season was Tuesday, when the spill was first reported.

“The Santa Barbara County Office of Emergency Management has estimated the cleanup may take three days,” the tourism organization wrote in an update.

In a statement Thursday, Visit Santa Barbara reiterated that its first concern is keeping visitors accurately informed.

“Second, we are engaging our industry partners to assess how we can support them through this crisis,” the statement said. “At this early stage we cannot determine the potential impacts on our tourism industry.

"We are in contact with Visit Santa Barbara board leadership and the local hospitality community to ensure that we communicate that Santa Barbara remains a safe and quality destination, including all of the beach areas not currently affected by the oil spill.

“Visit Santa Barbara is working closely with state partners, including Visit California, to communicate with international and targeted national travel trade media. We are reinforcing that the incident is contained, cleanup is in progress, and that Santa Barbara is open for business and largely unaffected outside of the immediate spill area.”

As a sort of silver lining, Oplinger said some hotels, including Hyatt Santa Barbara downtown, saw at least an initial up-tick in business as out-of-area cleanup crew members booked rooms.

“We’ve got to get the cleanup done first,” he said. “I’d like to understand more about what they mean about oil hitting the area of beaches near Goleta. The hope is that through the emergency operations center, we’re getting good information.”

Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff 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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