Southern California beach set to reopen after oil spill

HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif. (AP) – A Southern California beach that had been closed since an undersea pipeline leaked crude into ocean waters last week is expected to reopen on Monday, officials said Sunday evening.

Beaches in the city and state of Huntington Beach will reopen after water quality tests reveal no detectable levels of petroleum-associated toxins in ocean water, the City of Huntington Beach and California State Parks in a statement. Authorities are still urging visitors to avoid areas that smell of oil and to avoid touching oiled materials that wash up on the shore.

The news is likely to appeal to surfers and beach goers alike Richard Beach, who hit the waves at Huntington Beach with his bodyboard – until jet ski rescuers chased him on Sunday. He walked across the beach, passing workers in hazmat suits tasked with cleaning the sand from the sticky black spots that washed up on the shore after the spill.

“The water is perfect,” said Beach, 69. “The water is released to the bottom. “

Huntington Beach and neighboring coastal communities were shaken by last week’s spill which officials said sent at least about 25,000 gallons (95,000 liters) and no more than 132,000 gallons (500,000 liters) of oil in the ocean. It was caused by a leak about five miles off the coast in a pipeline owned by Houston-based Amplify Energy, which carries crude from offshore oil rigs to the coast.

The spill was confirmed on October 2, a day after residents reported smelling petroleum in the area. The case is under investigation and officials said they believed the pipeline was likely damaged by a ship’s anchor several months to a year before it ruptured. It is still unclear when the thin 13-inch (33-centimeter) crack in the pipeline started to leak oil.

On Sunday, there was no smell of oil and the sand looked largely clear near the pier at Huntington Beach, where workers combed the sand for tar.

But local authorities are concerned about the environmental impact of the spill on wetlands, wildlife and the economy. With the ocean out of bounds in the community known as Surf City USA, relatively few people were at the beach and the stores that service it suffered.

Officials in the city of 200,000 have tested the water to make sure it is safe for people to return to the water and said they will continue testing for at least two more weeks.

Since the spill, residents have been allowed to walk on the sand in Huntington Beach, but have been barred from shore and water access, and parking has been blocked for nearby state beaches. Popular surfing and swimming spots at Newport Beach and Laguna Beach have also been closed.

In Huntington Beach, stores selling everything from star and stripe bikinis and boogie boards to sand toys and fishing gear have taken an economic hit. Marian Johnson, owner of “Let’s Go Fishing” on the Pier, said sales had halved since the spill.

Mike Ali, owner of neighboring Zack’s store, said he had had to close three of his four stores and cut workers’ hours. People still rented bikes and bought food from his one store that was left open, but he said business fell 90% with no surf lessons, no event catering and no beach fires.

“It could take a year to two years for tourism to return,” Ali said, adding that an oil spill in 1990 had ended up diverting potential visitors to the beaches to the south and north of the city.

Rich Toro, 70, still made his regular 25-mile (40-kilometer) bike ride to Huntington Beach on Sunday.

But he said he would not be running back to the water because of the spill and worried about the impact on wildlife. Since the incident, authorities have reported 38 dead birds and nine dead fish, while 27 oiled birds have been recovered and are being processed.

On Sunday morning, only a handful of people played beach volleyball in Huntington Beach while a few others exercised or stretched out on the sand.

But the water closures haven’t turned everyone off. While fishing was prohibited along the shores of almost all of Orange County, Michael Archouletta, 29, said he came down from east Los Angeles and saw no signs on the pier preventing him from dropping a line. A school of fish was swimming under the nearby pier.

“If it was so dangerous, the fish would have died,” Archouletta said.

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