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 into ocean waters last week is expected to reopen on Monday, officials said Sunday night.

City and state beaches in Huntington Beach will reopen after water quality testing found no detectable levels of petroleum-associated toxins in seawater, the City of Huntington Beach said. and California State Parks in a statement. Authorities are still urging visitors to avoid areas that smell of oil and to avoid touching soiled materials that wash up on shore.

This news will likely appeal to surfers and beachgoers like Richard Beach, who returned to the waves at Huntington Beach with his bodyboard – until jet ski lifeguards chased him away on Sunday. He walked across the beach, passing workers in hazmat suits tasked with cleaning the sand of black, sticky stains that washed ashore after the spill.

“The water is perfect,” Beach, 69, said. “Clear to the core.”

Huntington Beach and nearby coastal communities have been rocked by last week’s spill, which officials say 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 8 kilometers off the coast in a pipeline owned by Houston-based Amplify Energy, which transports crude oil from offshore oil rigs to the coast.

The spill was confirmed Oct. 2, a day after residents reported the smell of petroleum in the area. The cause is being investigated and officials said they believe the pipeline was likely damaged by a ship’s anchor months to a year before it ruptured. It is still unclear when the thin 13-inch (33 centimeter) crack in the pipeline began to leak.

On Sunday, there was no smell of petroleum and the sand seemed mostly clear near the Huntington Beach pier, where workers combed the sand for tar.

But local officials are concerned about the environmental impact of the spill on wetlands, wildlife and the economy. With the ocean forbidden in the community dubbed Surf City USA, relatively few people were at the beach and the stores that supply them suffered.

Officials in the town of 200,000 have been testing the water to make sure people can safely get back in the water and said they will continue testing for at least another two weeks.

Since the spill, residents have been allowed to walk on the sand Huntington Beach but were banned from the shore and water, and parking was blocked for nearby state beaches. The popular surfing and swimming spots of Newport Beach and Laguna Beach were also 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 been cut in half since the spill.

Mike Ali, owner of nearby store Zack’s, said he had to close three of his four locations and cut workers’ hours. People were still renting bikes and buying food at his one store that remained open, but he said business had dropped 90% without surf lessons, event catering and bonfires on the beach.

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

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

But he said he would not run back into the water because of the spill and concerns 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 treated.

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

But the water closures haven’t deterred everyone. While fishing was prohibited along the shoreline of most of Orange County, Michael Archouletta, 29, said he came down from East Los Angeles and saw no signs on the pier l preventing dropping a line. A shoal of fish was swimming under the nearby pier.

“If it was that dangerous, the fish would be dead,” Archouletta said.

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