UPDATED: Laguna Beach to reopen sand Friday, water might stay closed for weeks

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Shorebirds appeared oil-free at Crescent Bay on Oct. 5 despite a plume of oil floating offshore. Photo by Daniel Langhorne

Laguna Beach will reopen the sand at city and county beaches on Friday after being closed by a major oil spill, city officials said late Thursday.

Reopening the ocean to wading and water sports could take weeks and will be done in consultation with the Coast Guard and Orange County Health Care Agency, Laguna Beach City Manager Shohreh Dupuis told business owners during a Zoom meeting Thursday.

Laguna Beach Mayor Bob Whalen said he’s pleased city staffers developed a plan to open the sand so that our residents and visitors can resume routines of walking and relaxing near the ocean.

“The Coast Guard advises that we must keep the water closed for health reasons until the water quality can be fully analyzed,” Whalen said in a press release. “I ask everyone to cooperate with this restriction and stay out of the water. We will be working with state and federal officials to open the water as soon as it is safe.”

Laguna Beach Marine Safety Chief Kevin Snow said small tarballs came ashore at Victoria Beach on Thursday but the southerly direction of the oil plume is a good sign. He added the direction of winds expected on Friday should still be advantageous for Laguna Beach

“That doesn’t mean we’re not going to get some small particulate matter, tarballs, and small patches of oil,” Snow said.

So far, Laguna Beach officials have received all of the pollution control vessels and cleanup crews they’ve requested from the U.S. Coast Guard-led Unified Command, Snow said.

County-operated beaches in Dana Point reopened at 1:30 p.m. on Thursday, following consultation with the Unified Command. A county spokesperson confirmed county-operated beaches in South Laguna remain under a hard close.

The reopened Dana Point beaches have not seen any trace oil since the spill, Dupuis said.

A deep love for the marine environment motivated 2,500 people in Orange County to volunteer for help. Surfrider Foundation has stepped up as an intake for future volunteer opportunities.

On Thursday, the state Dept. of Fish And Wildlife’s Office of Spill Prevention and Response said it’s recruiting volunteers to assist with the cleanup. Volunteers must be 18 years of age, able to lift 25 pounds, and follow COVID-19 procedures. Safety training is required following registration.

To register for volunteering, visit the Cal Spill Watch website or call 1-800-228-4544.

In tandem with cleanup and recovery efforts, Laguna Beach elected officials are already demanding an end to all offshore oil operations off California’s coastline. Whalen said the City is committed to working with its federal and state representatives to not only ban new drilling but also end existing leases for oil operations.

“This is a galvanizing moment for us but too often these disasters attract media attention in the short term but don’t result in the kinds of actions to prevent them from happening again,” Whalen said.

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