Bill for oil spill cleanup ex­ceeds $60 mil­lion

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - By Javier Pan­zar

Clean­ing up the thou­sands of gal­lons of crude oil that spilled into the Pa­cific Ocean near Refu­gio State Beach on May 19 has cost more than $60 mil­lion, of­fi­cials said Wed­nes­day, and the fig­ure is ex­pected to climb as the cleanup con­tin­ues.

Cleanup costs hit a peak of about $3 mil­lion a day af­ter a rup­tured pipe spilled as much as 101,000 gal­lons of oil along the Gaviota coast in Santa Bar­bara County last month, said Mered­ith Mathews, a spokes­woman for Plains All Amer­i­can Pipe­line, which owns the bro­ken pipe­line.

The com­pany is pay­ing to deploy more than 1,000 work­ers, skim­ming boats, eco­log­i­cal mon­i­tors and other re­sources along a 96.5mile stretch of coast from Gaviota to Point Mugu near Ox­nard. State and fed­eral agen­cies re­spond­ing to the spill will also bill the com­pany for their costs.

The $60 mil­lion only ac­counts for cleanup costs. It does not in­clude fi­nan­cial dam­age claims from peo­ple and busi­nesses that might have been af­fected by the spill, Mathews said.

Santa Bar­bara fish­er­man Stace Chev­erez filed a law­suit against Plains last week. He is seek­ing dam­ages be­cause the spill led to a ban

on fish­ing in a 138-mile zone off the coast. A dozen other fish­er­men and lo­cal busi­nesses have met with lawyers and may join the case, said Daniel Men­sher, one of Chev­erez’s at­tor­neys.

The spill could also re­sult in fines against the com­pany un­der the Clean Wa­ter Act.

Work­ers have cleaned up 76% of the dam­aged stretch of beach, mostly sandy ar­eas that had only trace amounts of oil, of­fi­cials said.

“Ini­tially, you see a lot of progress up­front, in the first week or two, where you get the re­ally gross oil off the wa­ter and the gross oil off the beach,” said U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Jen­nifer Wil­liams, a fed­eral on-scene co­or­di­na­tor of the spill re­sponse. “We ac­com­plished that. Now we are at a stage where we are do­ing a lot more te­dious work.”

On Wed­nes­day, work­ers in white protective suits at Refu­gio State Beach care­fully placed in­di­vid­ual oiled rocks on large sheets of plas­tic, scrap­ing the oil off with putty knives and wire brushes.

The cleanup ef­fort is now fo­cused on clean­ing soil, boul­ders and bedrock that were stained when as many as 21,000 gal­lons of thick crude made its way from where the pipe rup­tured down a storm culvert, onto cliffs and into the Pa­cific, said Eric Hjel­strom, state parks su­per­in­ten­dent for the Santa Bar­bara area.

Along the path the oil took to the ocean, a team of work­ers us­ing a crane dug sev­eral feet to bedrock and re­moved thou­sands of cu­bic yards of con­tam­i­nated soil. Oil will be re­moved from the con­tam­i­nated soil and the clean dirt will be re­cy­cled to make roads, Plains of­fi­cials said. New soil will be brought in as sci­en­tists make a plan to re­store the area, state and fed­eral of­fi­cials said.

As of Wed­nes­day, 158 dead birds and 85 dead marine mam­mals had been re- cov­ered from the spill area, in­clud­ing 64 dead Cal­i­for­nia sea li­ons, ac­cord­ing to the Oiled Wildlife Care Net­work at UC Davis.

Mel Mel­con Los An­ge­les Times

CLEANUP CON­TIN­UES in Santa Bar­bara County, with the cost hit­ting a peak of about $3 mil­lion a day. Above, ef­forts this month at Refu­gio State Beach.

Al Seib Los An­ge­les Times

JENNY MAREK, a wildlife bi­ol­o­gist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice, col­lects and pho­to­graphs dead sea life at Refu­gio State Beach in May.

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