South California Beach Plans to Reopen After Oil Spill

by Matthew Memrick

Officials of one Southern California city that recently suffered an oil spill are reopening the beach.

In a Sunday night announcement, city and state beaches in Huntington Beach are welcoming visitors back into the warm water on Monday.

After an undersea pipeline break leaked thousands of gallons into the ocean, Fox News reported that tests did not record detectable levels of oil-associated toxins in the water.

However, the city of Huntington Beach and California State Parks urged visitors to avoid the smell of oil in the water in a news release. Touching oily products that washed up on shore was also prohibited.

Visitors Raring To Get Back

Surfers and beach-goers were pleased by that announcement. One aptly-named man, Richard Beach, couldn’t wait to get back in the water. On Sunday, he rode his bodyboard out into the water before lifeguards chased him from the area.

As he left the beach, workers in hazmat suits attempted to clean the beach of sticky oil blobs. Others stayed away from the workers, playing beach volleyball, exercising, and sunbathing. 

“The water’s perfect,” the 69-year-old man said. “Clear all the way to the bottom.”

How Bad Was The Spill?

The Huntington Beach area has suffered since an oil leak dropped 25,000 to 132,000 gallons of crude into the ocean. Authorities estimated the Houston-based Amplify Energy spill at 5 miles long.

The damaged pipeline, which brings oil to land from off-shore oil rigs, was identified on Oct. 2 when residents reported a foul smell.

Early details from the spill investigation center on a ship’s anchor and a crack to the pipeline. Officials think a boat hit the pipeline in the past year, but it was only recently that a 13-inch gash started leaking crude.

Sunday’s announcement came after workers scanned the beaches for tar and other environmental damage. Water testing will continue two weeks after Monday’s reopening. 

Officials have gathered 38 dead birds and nine dead fish, while 27 oiled birds have been recovered and treated. 

An Economic Hit

Stores and businesses have felt the economic impact. With residents kept off the shoreline and out of the water, parking was closed in Huntington Beach and state beaches. Newport Beach and Laguna Beach area also suffered the same fate.

Some retail stores have seen their profits cut in half by the oil spill’s effects. Store have cut hours and employees pushed to limited schedules.

Zack’s owner Mike Ali was one of those affected. The man had to shutter three of his four locations over the past few weeks. Ali said bike rentals and food sales were ok, but the more significant tourist draws were practically at a standstill.

The owner lamented a past 1990 oil spill that diverted visitors to beaches north and south of the 200,000-resident city, saying it took a year to two years for tourism to recover.

Folks had differing points of view on returning. 

While 70-year-old Rich Toro still made his 25-mile bike trip to the beach, he said he would take his time getting back in the water. He also worried about the spill’s impact on wildlife.  

Another man was comfortable fishing from a pier, despite an Orange County ban on the activity. East Los Angeles resident Michael Archouletta saw fish swimming beneath a pier and was looking for a catch.