Coastal communities in Orange County – where tourism thrives and more than a million people gathered to attend the Pacific Airshow on Saturday – have become relative ghost towns after a massive oil spill caused shutdowns of beaches and fishing bans with no end in sight.
Since 144,000 gallons of oil spilled from a ruptured pipeline near an offshore oil processing facility in federal waters, municipal authorities in Huntington Beach and Laguna Beach have shut their coasts to the public, while Newport Beach has banned swimming, surfing, and any water-related activities off its coasts.
Meanwhile, a full-scale suspension of all fishing activity from Warner Avenue in Huntington Beach south to Crown Valley at Dana Point and extending six miles offshore was put in place on Saturday at following a statement from officials at California Fish and Wildlife.
No timetable for reopening has been given, which is bad news for local businesses whose stock and trade comes from the ocean and the tourism it attracts.
The sands on either side of the Huntington Beach Pier were eerily vacant Tuesday afternoon, except for a handful of bathers who were forced to vacate the seaside area by yellow warning tape.
Dave Wiggins, an employee of Huntington Pier’s Let’s Go Fishing, said on Tuesday business had declined by about two-thirds at the store, which rents fishing gear and sells bait, tackle and beach supplies.
It was a double whammy last week for the store, which had to close during this weekend’s Pacific Airshow because it was in the jets’ flight path, Wiggins said. Many shot glasses on a shelf behind the cashier, usually sold for $ 8 a piece, fell from the roar of the jets and were shattered.
Let’s Go Fishing opened on Sunday because the last day of the air show was canceled, but foot traffic is limited.
âIt stopped us quite a bit,â Wiggins said. âThere aren’t many people on the beach, so there aren’t many people in the shops.
Huntington Beach Main Street muted
On Main Street in Huntington Beach, traffic was just as light as workers prepared for the weekly Surf City Nights street fair on Tuesday.
Will Walton, managing director and operating partner of Killarney’s Irish Pub, is also concerned about how long the beaches could remain closed.
âObviously, the oil spill is a little setback,â Walton said. âWhen people read the news, they automatically assume that the whole city center is closed because the beaches are closed. It doesn’t really make you want to come here.
Walton said Killarney’s hopes to ride the wave of big events on back-to-back weekends – the US Open of Surfing and the airshow – into a successful fall.
âIt would have helped us have a lot more steam for Halloween then Thanksgiving,â he said. âBut with the closure of the beachesâ¦ how do we manage the staff? Will there be people here? What does the middle of the week look like? It could be scary.
Tour operators suffer from lack of traffic
On Tuesday afternoon, the village of Balboa in Newport Beach was also quieter than usual. The nearby waters were calm as the boats remained silent in their moorings.
A kiosk where visitors line up to watch whale watching tours has been closed, while a nearby boat rental business and the small storefront of a parasailing business have also been closed and without surveillance.
Jessica Roame, education manager for sport fishing and whale watching at Newport Landings and Davey’s Locker, said it was Balboa Village’s photo in recent days. The agency has had to cancel almost all tours since Sunday.
âWe didn’t really see a huge impact until Sundayâ¦ when we noticed there was quite a bit of oil in the area,â Roame said.
“The economic impact of shutting down our business for several days is hard enough for us given the post-pandemic slowdown,” she continued. “[And] we don’t know how long it will last.
Caitlin Aston, assistant manager and dockside at Boat Rentals of America, said they haven’t seen much of an impact on their business, likely because the boat rentals are kept inside Newport Harbor , closed Monday to maritime traffic.
Residents, tourists left dry
Of the few bathers who ventured into the southern parts of the county affected by the spill this week, many have expressed concern about the impact of the spill on maritime activities as well as local marine life.
The visible effects of the disaster weren’t too apparent on Corona del Mar beach, much to the relief of local resident Ray Gorman, who on Monday was walking his dog, Stella.
Gorman first heard about the oil spill on Saturday, while watching the Pacific Airshow. A friend forwarded the notification via a cell phone screenshot. He remembered that the air smelled a bit of gas on Sunday but didn’t notice anything abnormal.
A daily beach enthusiast, Gorman said it was surprising to learn of the oil spill after such a busy weekend in Huntington Beach.
“With a bit of luck, [itâs] a wake-up call. I don’t know what it will take for us to see that there may be different ways of doing things other than offshore drilling, âGorman said. âYou had the ocean literally on fire earlier this year and now you have this. I don’t think these things are fixable, and it’s a tough pill to swallow.
Newport Beach resident Pam Darveaux said she too was at the Pacific Airshow on Saturday when she heard the news. Although she remembered one of her friends commenting on the smell of oil in the air on Friday, she thought it was probably from the jets flying overhead.
âWhen we got back we got home around 3pm, then I looked at my phone and saw that there was an oil spill just off the coast where we were. It’s horrible, âsaid Darveaux. “I hope they take action to prevent this from being as bad as it could be, but I know it is going to have repercussions.”
Ariel Tweto, who had gone out for a run on the Laguna Beach promenade, commented on the absence of people on the sand after the city closed its beaches on Sunday evening in anticipation of the oil spill that would make landfall.
“It’s just strange, especially yesterday, like the first morning [after the beach closures]”Tweto said.” It was like a ghost town. I was running around here and there was no one there.
Clear skies followed a rare thunderstorm in southern California that struck Monday. Some companies propped up their floodgates for the downpour, but that seemed to be largely business as usual for the Promenade on Forest in downtown Laguna Beach on Tuesday.
Some were not deterred by the beach closures, as a woman was seen sunbathing in beachwear on the lawn adjacent to the main beach. An artist showcased several pieces of his work while working on another drawing in the sunshine on the promenade, where a street artist also played the cello for passers-by.
Jessica Williams, a city visit from Virginia, waited with her children to board a Laguna Beach cart after finding the stairs to Shaw’s Cove closed with warning tape.
âWe’re going out for a family wedding and we’re staying right up the street,â Williams said. âWe were hoping to enjoy the beach.
As men in hazmat vests scoured the beach for debris, Huntington Beach residents Garrett Blackwell, 24, and Nick Roberts, 26, played a game of catching near the water on the north side of the pier. It quickly derailed, however, when a rescuer in a truck came over and asked them to back up, telling them that there might be oil particles in the sand.
Roberts, who lives near First Street, didn’t care.
âI started to look at the ground and I could see little black dots,â he said. “I didn’t even notice that.”
Roberts said his grandfather was sailing his sailboat on Saturday, watching what ended up being the last day of the Pacific Airshow, but he got oil all over his anchor.
“I’m leaning to get these [rigs] from here and not to let them break through â, he declared.
Ryan Fagan, of Chandler, Ariz., Took his three boys to the beach on Tuesday. But they only stayed for about an hour, a fraction of the parking time Fagan had purchased.
âIt’s kinda rubbish without the water,â Fagan said. âToday is also a beautiful day. I was looking forward to it. I hope they can clean up [the oil] high and it doesn’t change anything. I hope the wildlife is not in too much pain.
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