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Beaches reopen in Huntington Beach, Newport Beach as oil spill investigations pledged

Gus Wood from Salt Lake City, Utah skim boards at Huntington Beach near the pier on Monday.
Gus Wood from Salt Lake City, Utah skim boards at Huntington Beach near the pier on Monday, after city officials announced the reopening of the shoreline and waters at local beaches following the oil spill.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Surfing is back on in Surf City.

City and state beaches in Huntington Beach reopened Monday morning, more than a week after a spill off the coast emptied up to 131,000 gallons of oil off the Orange County coast.

Huntington City Beach, Huntington State Beach and Bolsa Chica State Beach were all fully opened at 6 a.m. Monday. Previously, they had been in a “soft closure,” as residents and visitors could get on the sand but the water and shoreline were closed.

Newport Beach followed suit, opening its city beaches at 2 p.m. Monday.

Huntington Beach and California State Parks used a local independent contractor, Costa Mesa-based Moffatt and Nichol, to test 40 different sites along the coast and wetlands, from the Santa Ana River jetty north through Sunset Beach.

Visitors play in the sand as a group of waste management personnel clean the beach at Huntington Beach on Monday.
Visitors play in the sand as a group of waste management personnel clean the beach at Huntington Beach near the pier on Monday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

All samples were tested for polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) and total petroleum hydrocarbons (TPH), Huntington Beach spokeswoman Jennifer Carey said, to determine the levels of oil present in the ocean. Oil was only detected at one of the 40 sites — a non-toxic amount was found in the water just north of Warner Avenue, near the divide between Sunset Beach and Bolsa Chica State Beach.

“That could have been from a vessel that had just gone by,” California State Parks Orange County Supt. Kevin Pearsall said. “You just don’t know. Considering that 40 spots were tested, and all but one of them came out very healthy with zero contaminants … that was a big factor for everyone involved to decide that it was ready to open. We’re just being very cautious. We have a lot of postings up for tar ball education. It could be months that we see the tar balls, from what we’re told.”

A visitor to Huntington Beach from Salt Lake City enters the water as waste management employee combs the beach for oil.
Brendan Park, right, from Salt Lake City, Utah, prepares to enter the water as waste management employee combs the beach for oil at Huntington Beach near the pier on Monday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Huntington Beach Mayor Kim Carr said that testing will continue twice a week at the sites, for at least the next two weeks. All of the test results are being published on the city’s oil spill information webpage. Flyovers also will continue to check for oil.

If people find a tar ball, they are urged not to pick it up, but instead email beach cleanup teams at tarballreports@wildlife.ca.gov.

“Here in Surf City, our beaches and ocean are critical to our tourism, businesses and overall livelihood,” Carr said. “It was important for us to reopen our beaches as quickly as possible, but in a responsible manner, based on data and public safety.”

In Newport Beach, city waters opened nine days after being closed. City spokesman John Pope said 10 locations impacted by the spill were analyzed by Eurofins Calscience, an independent lab, after being collected on Friday. They did not show unhealthful levels of petroleum-related toxins.

Still, concerns remain about the spill. A press conference was held Monday afternoon at the Talbert Marsh, where large amounts of sea foam have gathered on the edges of the shore. A sand berm was removed over the weekend to get fresh water into the area.

John Villa, the executive director of the Huntington Beach Wetlands Conservancy, said tests have been conducted on the foam and he is awaiting the results.

The investigation also continues into the spill itself. California Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon on Monday announced the formation of the Assembly Select Committee on the oil spill, with local Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris presiding as chair.

Petrie-Norris said the committee should have its first meeting by early November.

A surfer crosses in front of a line of waste management personnel looking for oil at Huntington Beach near the pier.
A surfer crosses in front of a line of waste management personnel looking for oil at Huntington Beach near the pier on Monday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

At a separate press conference Monday at Huntington State Beach, California Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta announced an investigation into the oil spill.

“We are investigating, we are determining whether civil enforcement is justified and appropriate, and whether criminal enforcement is justified and supported by the facts,” Bonta said. “Federal entities and county and local jurisdictions may be doing something similar as well. It depends on what the facts are first, and what the ‘this’ is — who did what when? We’re still trying to determine what that is.”

Staff writer Sara Cardine contributed to this story.

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