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Local News

Santa Barbara County Supervisors Extend State of Emergency for Refugio Oil Spill

Board also delays a decision on renewing a contract for inmate health care at the jail

As efforts continued to clean up the Refugio oil spill, the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to extend the state of emergency in the county.

The board also discussed — and ultimately postponed — renewing a large contract for inmate health care at the jail.

The supervisors first approved extending the state of emergency for the spill that covered Refugio State Beach last month.

The day after the spill, Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency in the county, and the same day, the county's CEO proclaimed a local emergency to assist with the response.

On Tuesday, Supervisor Janet Wolf said the county is still seeing the impacts of the May 19 oil spill, "hence the need for this continued proclamation."

Wolf expressed frustration that the county's voice had "sometimes being muffled or overshadowed" at Unified Command, which includes federal agencies such as the U.S. Coast Guard and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Supervisor Peter Adam asked why it wasn't an emergency for ExxonMobil, the company that announced last week it would shut down its three offshore platforms in southern Santa Barbara County after the county denied an emergency permit to truck crude oil from its processing facility..

"How did they get to be punished along with an unfortunate event?" he asked. "Somebody up here needs to say that business is a value in this county, along with the environment. It's not greater than, its not less than."

Lt. Cmdr. Greg Riley of the U.S. Coast Guard briefed the supervisors Tuesday, and said that recovery operations are still ongoing.

As of Tuesday, 950 responders were still working the spill, with only about 100 working in the incident command, meaning most of the workers are out on frontline operations.

There are significant safety concerns working on the cliffs near the ocean, and the last piece of cleanup will be a challenging one, Riley said.

El Capitan State Beach is expected to be open this Friday, while Refugio will be closed until at least July 9, he said.

Adam asked Riley when the county will be able to see an official timeline of the response, and Riley responded that a press conference will be held on Wednesday morning that will include details of the timeline.

Also of note on Tuesday was the county's request to return in August on an important contract with a private company that provides health care for jail inmates.

The county contracts with Corizon Health Services for medical, dental and psychiatric services inside the jail, and last renewed its contract in 2013.

The contract would be almost $10 million for the next two years of services.

The agreement expires June 30, and the supervisors expressed frustration that the company had not provided statistics to show how often it is meeting its goals for care, and had only included a one-page summary instead of the entire contract for approval.

"I don't know how we're expected to approve a contract that we haven't even seen," Supervisor Doreen Farr asserted.

The board ultimately voted unanimously to extend the contract for 120 days, and return on Aug. 25 to hear more information from the company.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper 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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