Environment

Campers and surfers mark second anniversary of the Refugio Oil Spill

Campers and surfers remember Refugio...

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - Surfers and campers said they started noticing the smell of oil in the late morning of May 19, 2015.

Rod Lock is a regular surfer at Refugio State Beach. He remembers catching some good waves that morning.

"By the time I changed and started to drive up the onramp heading toward Solvang you could smell it in the air," said Lock.

But he didn't know what the smell was from until he got home and heard it on the news.

Eric Hjelstrom, better known as "Ranger Jelly" lives at the State Beach.  He said it took awhile for first responders to find the origin of the smell.  They found the oil coming from a ruptured underground pipeline.

"It was on the mountain side of the highway, It flowed under the freeway," said Hjelstrom.

More than 140 thousand gallons spilled. Most of it flowed downhill and off a sea cliff and onto the beaches below.  

The oil flowed south with tar balls showing up as far away as Newport Beach in Orange County.

Volunteers started cleaning up beaches that day and night before professional clean-up crews, hired by Plains All-American Pipeline, arrived.

Parks rangers evacuated campers and closed campground for two months including the busy Memorial Day weekend.

Campers who return annually said they can see the difference this year. Jerry Pohl came up from Long Beach.  Pohl said he noticed it looking much better this week.

"Here it is the two year anniversary and we were here one day before the oil spill and left and we came back today and went looked at the beach and we were just amazed at how pristine the beach It is a lot better than last year," said Pohl.

Pohl calls Refugio "a poor man's Hawaii."

Rangers call it the most biologically diverse coastline in the West. "It is better than it was," Ranger Hjelstrom said.


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