Surf City USA beach reopens after the oil spill

AMY TAXIN, Associated Press

A southern California beach that closed more than a week ago for a leak of crude oil from an underwater pipeline reopened on Monday far earlier than many expected.

Huntington Beach’s city and state beaches reopened after officials said water quality tests showed no detectable levels of oil-related toxins in seawater. Early Monday morning surfers rocked in the waves and people walked along the coast, some with dogs jumping and playing in the water.

Andrew Boyack, a 54-year-old commercial photographer, was dying to get back on the waves, which he usually rides three or four times a week.

“There are a lot of people out there so I think it’s probably okay, and I think they tested it,” he said while rinsing himself off at an outdoor beach shower.
“This is practice. It’s like someone is a jogger or something, ”he said. “We surf every morning.”

Huntington Beach and the nearby coastal communities have been tarnished by last week’s leak, which officials said it sent at least 25,000 gallons and no more than 132,000 gallons of oil into the ocean.

It was caused by a leak about five miles offshore in a Houston-based Amplify Energy pipeline that carries crude oil from offshore oil rigs to the coast.

The spill was confirmed on October 2, the day after residents reported an oil smell in the area. The cause is being investigated, and officials said they believe the pipeline was likely damaged by a ship’s anchor several months to a year before it broke. It remains unknown when oil leaked from the narrow 13-inch crack in the pipeline.

There was no smell of oil on Sunday, and the sand at Huntington Beach Pier, where workers were combing the sand for tar, looked largely clear.
However, local officials are concerned about the environmental impact of the spillage on wetlands, wildlife and the economy. Since the ocean is closed in Surf City USA, there have been relatively few people on the beach and the shops serving them have hurt.

Officials in the city of 200,000 said the water tests would take at least two more weeks.

Before Monday, Huntington Beach residents were allowed to walk on the sand, but were banned from the coast and water. Popular surfing and swimming spots in Newport Beach and Laguna Beach have also been closed.

In Huntington Beach, stores selling everything from bikinis and stars and stripes boogie boards to sand toys and fishing gear suffered an economic blow during the closure. Marian Johnson, who owns Let’s Go Fishing on the pier, said sales were cut in half as a result of the closure.

Mike Ali, who owns the nearby Zack’s store, said he was forced to close three of its four locations and reduce workers’ hours. People were still renting bicycles and buying groceries at his only shop that stayed open during the beach closure, but he said business had declined 90% without surfing lessons, event catering, and beach fires.

“It could be a year or two before tourism returns,” Ali said, adding that a 1990 oil spill diverted potential visitors to the beaches south and north of the city.

Rich Toro, 70, was still doing his regular 40-mile bike ride to Huntington Beach on Sunday.

But he said he wouldn’t run to get back in the water because of the spill and concerns about the impact on wildlife. Since the leak, officials have reported 38 dead birds and nine dead fish, while 27 oiled birds have been recovered and treated.

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