THE TALK AT THE BEACH : A Little Sheen Revives Memories of Big Spill


Another fuel spill. Memories rushed back.

Scott Einbinder, owner of a beach-supply store near the city pier, was standing there Friday wearing an angry look. The beach had just been closed, again, because there was diesel fuel in the water. Einbinder saw the first big spill here on Feb. 7, 1990. Once was enough, he said.

"It's terrible," he said. "The fact that this continues to happen is getting to the point that people are going to have to re-evaluate how they want to lead their lives. There won't be an ocean to swim in if this keeps up."

Throughout this community of 180,000, people were reacting with concern and anger to the presence of patches of oily sheen off the coast. They were believed to be diesel fuel that had been discharged from a passing boat. As the sheen washed ashore, city officials barred everyone from the water along an 8.5-mile section of Huntington State Beach.

Huntington State Beach lifeguard Mark Urkov, 20, said that when he learned of the new spill, "I flashed back straight to the last time and went, 'Oh, no, not again.' "

Assemblyman Tom Mays (R-Huntington Beach) also had that feeling.

"It brings back memories of the oil spill in 1990, and it's not the sort of thing I like to relive," Mays said.

Mays was at that time the city's new mayor. "I spent a lot of time down there at the beach, and that's where I'm going back to today, to check on the damage," Mays said. "It makes me realize how badly we need more protective legislation, and that's what I'm working for."

Said current Mayor Peter Green: "We seem to live from oil spill to oil spill, hoping that the next one won't be worse. We're almost like hostages to the companies that transport oil around our city. It's very discouraging."

Green, Mays and virtually all other city officials have said that they oppose the presence of the offshore oil-unloading terminal in Huntington Beach. The terminal, about a mile off Huntington State Beach, is in the spot where the tanker American Trader punctured its hull last year, spewing almost 400,000 gallons of crude oil into the ocean.

By coincidence, there was a tanker unloading at the terminal on Friday afternoon. Coast Guard and city officials quickly determined that the tanker was not the source of the oily sheen. Still, the sight of it infuriated some people.

Carlos Gentile, 64, of Huntington Beach pointed to the tanker and said, "The problem has to be taken care of by the people out there."

Armando Moreno, 19, of Pico Rivera also expressed anger at the tanker. "I don't know what that boat is doing out there so close," he said. "It should be kept as far away from the local beaches as possible."

Gordon Smith, chairman of the board of the Huntington Beach Wetlands Conservancy, recalled the feverish activities last year to control damage to the fragile wetlands near Brookhurst Street and Pacific Coast Highway. The newest spill, although small, still poses a threat to the wetlands, he said.

"Even a light slick can still hurt birds by oiling them," he said.

Adrian Morrison, executive director of Amigos de Bolsa Chica, said that Friday's spill, although it was light, could harm sea life. Summer is the spawning season for most sea life, including stingrays, Morrison said. "They could easily be affected because this is such an important time for them," she said.

Morrison said she hoped the spill Friday will renew public calls for better monitoring of oil traffic and enforcement of boating regulations.

In the late afternoon Friday, lifeguard vehicles were moving up and down the city's picturesque wide beaches. Using loudspeakers, they were telling people to leave the water, saying that it was unsafe.

Swimmers, surfboard riders, bodyboarders and those just wading streamed out of the ocean and onto the sand and sidewalk.

Bill Packard, 33, a visitor from Phoenix, said as he was leaving the beach that oceans should be clean and available for swimming.

"I'm just very disappointed, not only with the day and what happened, but with the oil companies," Packard said. "It doesn't seem that these things should be happening at all."

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