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ORANGE COUNTY PERSPECTIVE : Welcome New Mooring Restrictions

Huntington Beach has been living with the horrible memory of oil washing ashore ever since the American Trader dumped 394,000 gallons off its coast in February. Now the Coast Guard has announced some new restrictions on the movement of tankers into that offshore mooring that could be a model for some of the other offshore oil terminals in California. This won’t guarantee complete peace of mind on the beach, and local officials probably wouldn’t be happy with anything short of the complete removal of the terminals. But the new rules are tough enough to have prevented the tanker from mooring the day of the spill--and they offer more improved monitoring than anything that has gone before.

Under the new regulations, there must be at least 6 feet of clearance between the vessel entering the mooring and the sea floor or any known obstruction. The American Trader actually had less than 5 feet of clearance, and that day only vessels with a draft of 32 feet or less would have been allowed in because of tide and conditions.

New procedures to monitor depths are being put in place. That’s important because the waters off Huntington Beach hadn’t been charted since 1975. Readings will be taken monthly by the operator of the mooring, and the findings will be given to each vessel bound for it. Also, before each tanker’s arrival, the mooring will be sounded by a separate support vessel. The Coast Guard is requiring notification 24 hours in advance of a vessel’s arrival. There are other steps, too.

Any community along the California coast that faces the risk of a similar spill will understandably be skeptical about the new rules. Any near-shore moorings are risky, at best. While double-bottomed hulls on tankers are costly, they would provide even better protection and should be seriously considered by the oil industry for use along the entire California coast. In the meantime, these new regulations afford an important measure of safety and review for Huntington Beach. They point the way for tighter restrictions on depots all along the coastline.

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