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Refugio Oil Spill Cleanup Prepares to Enter Final Phase

The initial grunt work of the Refugio oil spill clean up is nearly complete, but that doesn’t mean a mass exodus of crew members will be happening any time soon.

Sure, most volunteers doing less-specialized cleaning of sand and rocks following the May 19 pipeline leak near Refugio State Beach have gone home.

But according to Refugio Response Unified Command, which is handling clean-up efforts along with Plains All American Pipeline, the Texas oil company responsible, two Shoreline Cleanup Assessment Technique (SCAT) teams are sticking around for the third phase of cleanup — monitoring.

Unified command folks are also sticking around, albeit a smaller staff of 17 at a smaller office, said unified command’s Alexia Retallack, who works for California Fish & Wildlife.

This week, unified command announced the second phase of cleansing oil-covered cobblestones and rocks was complete, except at beaches closest to ground zero, where as many as 142,800 gallons of crude oil flowed down the hill and into the Pacific Ocean near Refugio State Park.

The first phase involved gross oil cleanup, and the third includes surveys and SCAT teams regularly checking from Arroyo Hondo to Rincon Point, Retallack said.

“There’s still cleaning going on,” she said. “The area is much more concentrated now.”

Because some of the beaches can only be reached at low tide, Retallack said crews are limited to scraping oil from cobblestones at night.

During phase three, SCAT teams survey for oil uncovered through sand erosion, respond to reports of oil deposits, and conduct periodic sampling.

Samplings are scheduled for December and May 2016, as well as any time there’s a significant storm event, since storms tend to erode beaches and could reveal oil deposits, Retallack said.

Those samples are then compared to oil originating from the spill.                                                                                              

“If they find anything, that team will go back and see if it needs to be cleaned again,” she said.

Along with monitoring comes restoration planning, Retallack said, which involves public comment, results of an investigation, determination of costs, and many years of wildlife habitat re-establishment.

“They’re going to be monitoring for a very long period,” she said.

Unified Command is following a phased cleanup approach according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Shoreline Assessment Manual.

Anyone who sees unusual amounts of tar or oil can report the sighting with the USCG National Response Center at 800.424.8802 or the California Office of Emergency Services at 800.852.7550.

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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