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Local News

Refugio Oil Spill Command Operation Outgrows County’s Emergency Operations Center

More than 200 personnel involved in the cleanup effort are overtaxing the Cathedral Oaks Road building, with a move to another facility expected by Friday

Tents, trailers and other temporary quarters have been set up outside Santa Barbara County’s Emergency Operations Center to handle the burgeoning number of people involved in the response to last week’s oil spill at Refugio State Beach. Most incident-command personnel now stationed at the center are expected to move to a new location by Friday.
Tents, trailers and other temporary quarters have been set up outside Santa Barbara County’s Emergency Operations Center to handle the burgeoning number of people involved in the response to last week’s oil spill at Refugio State Beach. Most incident-command personnel now stationed at the center are expected to move to a new location by Friday. (Tom Bolton / Noozhawk photo)

The Refugio oil-spill response effort appears to have outgrown Santa Barbara County’s Emergency Operations Center, county Emergency Management Director Ryan Rockabrand told the county Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.

The majority of the incident command personnel now at the EOC will move to another facility on Friday, Rockabrand said.

About 200 to 250 people have been working out of the EOC to coordinate cleanup response efforts after the May 19 oil spill that sent thousands of gallons of crude oil out of a pipeline, through a culvert, over coastal bluffs and into the ocean near Refugio State Beach on the Gaviota Coast.

Plains All American Pipeline, the company responsible for the Line 901 pipe that transports crude oil from Las Flores Canyon to Gaviota, is involved in the spill response, and was asked to find an appropriate command post location, but the two proposed spots were inadequate, Rockabrand said.

After that, the county offered up the EOC, which was used starting at 6 a.m. May 20 and is now “literally bursting at the seams” as more resources respond to the area, he said.

Representatives from federal and state agencies thanked the Board of Supervisors for use of the EOC, saying the response would not be going as well without use of that facility.

Private security has been controlling the driveway leading up to the EOC at 4408 Cathedral Oaks Road. and turned away county supervisors from the area multiple times.

“I think over 250 people are at the site, and I know security was a concern, but I didn’t appreciate the fact I couldn’t get into the building because Plains representatives stopped me at the gate,” Second District Supervisor Janet Wolf said. “I want to make sure those types of things don’t happen again.”

Third District Supervisor Doreen Farr said she was also stopped twice.

“When three people stopped me in the EOC lobby, I pointed to my picture on the wall and said, ‘That’s me.’”

Federal, state and county agencies are all included in the incident command, and after the big move, Santa Barbara County’s Office of Emergency Management will continue operating the EOC at full-scale activation status to handle the county’s response to the incident, Rockabrand said.

The OEM will be “shoulder to shoulder” with the county Fire Department for the county’s command of the incident, he said.

County Fire personnel were the first responders to the spill and called in hand crews to start damming operations to keep oil from reaching the ocean, Fire Chief Eric Peterson said.

There was some “red tape” to get through during the first few days of the response, but now the county Fire Department is involved in the unified command and directly with clean-up response efforts, he said.

Two hand crews of 12 are doing clean-up operations in the field, and more fire personnel are acting as field observers to provide local knowledge for the U.S. Coast Guard, Peterson said.

Many other departments are involved in the response, and Santa Barbara County will be compensated by Plains for staff time spent on the oil spill response effort, County Counsel Michael Ghizzoni said.

The Oil Pollution Act of 1990, an update to the Clean Water Act, outlines strict liability by the responsible party for removal costs and damages after a spill, he said.

There is an active claims line at 866.753.3619.

The claims process should be “beefed up” to let people know they can file partial claims now, without giving up the right to file additional claims later, Ghizzoni said.

The county told the unified command about its concerns, and there should be a more robust claims procedure soon, he said.

Businesses including kayak tour companies, hotels and commercial fishermen could all file partial claims now to take care of cash-flow problems week to week, Ghizzoni said.

Potential claims can deal with removal costs; natural resources; real or personal property; subsistence use; governmental revenue; profits and earning capacity; and government/public services, he said.

Governments that see a decrease in transient occupancy tax from beach closures can file a claim, as can businesses harmed by a shutdown or people turned away from closed beaches and no-fishing zones, Ghizzoni said.

People who fish for their own food can also file claims due to the fishery closure, he said.

The active fishery closure forbids fishing and taking shellfish in the general area between Gaviota and Coal Oil Point, up to seven miles out to sea. California Department of Fish and Wildlife officials are patrolling the shoreline and in a boat to enforce the closure and educate people, warden Santos Cabral said.

California Department of Fish & Wildlife officers intercept a commercial fishing vessel that was actively fishing in an area closed due to the Refugio State Beach oil spill. (California Department of Fish & Wildlife photo)

The patrol boat has already come across a commercial fishing vessel that had a load of crabs – which they were forced to dump overboard back into the ocean – and a commercial trawling vessel out of Santa Barbara Harbor, Cabral said.

Coast Guard Capt. Jennifer Williams said the federal government mobilized resources as fast as possible using the oil spill liability trust fund, and the agencies will bill Plains later.

Few details about the investigation have been mentioned since there could be civil or criminal penalties as a result of the spill, she said Tuesday.

“I believe there is an interest in this for all possible types of enforcement action,” Williams said.

To submit comments about the oil spill to the county directly, email [email protected]

There will be a community open house held for anyone with questions about the oil spill response on Saturday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Elks Lodge at 150 N. Kellogg Ave. 

To register for training and volunteer to help clean-up efforts, visit the CalSpillWatch website or contact the volunteer hotline at 1.800.228.4544. 

The Arroyo Burro and Goleta county beaches are “in good shape,” assistant county executive officer Renée Bahl said, with temporary signs warning people to avoid oil if they see it.

There have been formal clean-up crews at some Goleta-area beaches, including Haskell’s and Ellwood beaches, but it’s still unclear if the amount of oil found near those areas is related to the spill or natural seepage.

Sensitive areas have been boomed off down to the Devereux Slough, according to the county, and there has been light oiling as far east as Coal Oil Point. Those spots are being targeted for removal as needed.

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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