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Sunday, March 24 , 2019, 3:14 pm | A Few Clouds 63º


Once-Fouled Refugio State Beach Reopens to a Happy Public

Two months after Plains All American Pipeline spilled more than 100,000 gallons of oil in the area, the coastal park is back in use

Lompoc resident Mary Morales brought her three sons and their friend to Refugio State Beach on Friday to celebrate the reopening of the area after an oil spill two months ago.
Lompoc resident Mary Morales brought her three sons and their friend to Refugio State Beach on Friday to celebrate the reopening of the area after an oil spill two months ago. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

Refugio State Beach reopened Friday, two months after 101,000 gallons of crude oil spilled into the ocean and onto the coastline.

Beachgoers and campers filled the beach park, lining up in the parking lot as early as 8 a.m. to surf, swim, barbecue and camp.

"Our beach was gone," said Lompoc resident Mary Morales. "It was heartbreaking. We didn't think we would get our beach back this summer."

Morales arrived first thing in the morning with her sons, Joel Morales, 9, Enrique Esquivel, 8, toddler Emiliano Esquivel, and their neighbor Johnny Acevelos, 13.

She set up a tent and fired up the charcoal for a barbecue.

The boys hit the ocean to body board and bat around a beach ball.

"I think they cleaned it up really well," Morales said. "It looks really good."

The spill killed at least 200 birds and more than 100 mammals, and about 120 more were rescued and rehabilitated.

A corroded pipeline belonging to Plains All American Pipeline broke on May 19, fouling Refugio State Beach and sending oil up and down the coast. The spill has already sparked several lawsuits.

Ricardo Salazar fishes in the ocean at Refugio State Beach on Friday, the first day the park has been open since a May 19 oil spil. (Josh Molina / Noozhawk Photo)

The spill gained worldwide attention and was a painful reminder of the far worse 1969 Santa Barbara Oil Spill, which oozed more than three million gallons of oil.

The federal government ordered Plains to suspend operation of the pipeline and raised questions about the government oversight over the corroded pipeline.

"If we can put people on the moon, if we can take a heart from one person and put it inside another, we should be able to move oil without spilling it," said Wes Herman, a retired Santa Barbara County firefighter.

Herman, a Goleta resident, came out Friday with several of his surfer buddies.

The group usually surfs once a week in the morning and then eats lunch together on the benches.

The spill fouled the beach and their surf routine, but Herman and his friends were happy on this day.

"We're glad it's back open," said Santa Ynez resident Jack Schuyler, "and we hope it doesn't happen again."

Both Schuyler and Herman said the water was clear and there was no sign of oil anywhere in the ocean. 

Ricardo and Heidi Salazar were among the early entrants Friday. Ricardo brought his fishing pole and cast his line from the sand. The Lompoc resident said he usually catches small halibut and rockfish from the shore. 

"We always come here," he said. "We're glad it's open again."

He said the spill was terrible and he was perplexed as to how it happened in the first place.

"It was so sad," he said. "With so much technology how can that happen?"

A few steps down from the Salazars, Patrick Ball was sitting in the back of his truck.

The Los Angeles resident drove up to camp with his girlfriend. They had reservations scheduled for two weeks after the spill, but obviously couldn't follow through. He was thrilled to be back on Friday.

Ball, wearing an Oakland Raiders hat, said he likes the cove setting, and Refugio doesn't have any rodents like El Capitan does. 

"The spill was devastating," Ball said. "These types of things shouldn't happen. They shouldn't have pipelines this close to the beach."

Still Ball saw no remnants of the spill that soiled the coastline just two months ago.

"I am surprised it opened up so quickly," he said. "It almost seems as if there wasn't an oil spill at all."

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina 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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