Laguna Beach closes city beaches as oil slick comes ashore

A crude oil film rests on the high tide line near the Santa Ana River outlet in Newport Beach on Oct. 3 following an oil spill. Photo by Breeana Greenberg/Firebrand Media

Laguna Beach closed all city beaches Sunday night as officials braced for oil to come ashore from a 13-square-mile oil slick, according to a city press release.

A sheen created by a spill of at least 126,000 gallons from an oil pipeline was floating about half a mile off Laguna Beach by Sunday night, Mayor Bob Whalen said.

The U.S. Coast Guard has dispatched two pollution control vessels in an attempt to capture some of the oil by towing booms, Whalen added. By 9 p.m. on Sunday, one anti-pollution vessel was underway off Emerald Bay and the other was sailing southwest of South Laguna, according to vessel tracker MarineTraffic.

“The ocean is so fragile and we’re all on the same page on this,” Whalen said. “It’s a crisis and we have to respond to it like that.”

Whalen hasn’t lived through a major oil spill landing on the city’s shores since he moved to town in 1985, he said. In trying to process the news, his mind went to the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill that’s credited with being the genesis of the modern environmental movement.

During an afternoon flight on a Coast Guard patrol plane, Orange County Sup. Katrina Foley observed threads of oil clustering and moving south toward Laguna Beach. She subsequently shared an update with Whalen and Sup. Lisa Bartlett, who represents the southern portion of coastal Orange County.

“As the recovery and clean-up efforts continue through this evening, I spoke with Captain Ore of the Coast Guard and we discussed the growing concern about the oil spill impacting Laguna Beach, given how the current plume is being pushed around by current surf and wind conditions,” Foley wrote in an email.

The exact cause and timing of the spill are under investigation.

State officials are monitoring the coastline for oiled wildlife. If anyone encounters oiled wildlife they should not approach. Call the Oiled Wildlife Care Network at 1-877-823-6926.

On Sunday night, the California Dept. of Fish & Wildlife ordered the closure of Orange County fisheries to protect the public from eating fish and shellfish impacted by oil. The closure encompasses the coastal area from Warner Avenue in Huntington Beach to Crown Valley Parkway in Dana Point, including the shorelines and all bays and harbors between these points. The fishery closure also extends six miles offshore.

A group of Top of the World Elementary Elementary students plans to rally this week to raise money for wildlife affected by the oil spill. They will stand near Laguna Beach Fire Station No. 3 near TOW Elementary starting Monday through Wednesday from 7:30 to 7:55 a.m. They hope to collect donations from neighbors and parents to support the Wetlands and Wildlife Care Center of Orange County.

Garry Brown, founding director of Orange County Coastkeeper, called this incident a reflection point for the nation.

“We pay a heavy price for oil in California. Oil spills, refinery fires, and climate change. It is time to move to renewables,” Brown wrote in an email.” “In the meantime, we need to improve and refine our emergency oil spill response. The faster containment booms are deployed, the less environmental damage is caused.”

A Long Beach-based unified command consists of Beta Offshore, the U.S. Coast Guard, California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Office of Spill Prevention and Response. Supporting agencies are the cities of Laguna Beach, Long Beach, Newport Beach, and Huntington Beach, and the Orange County Sheriff’s Department. The Orange County Emergency Operations Center was also activated Sunday night.

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