Tar balls on the move close Lydgate Beach

WAILUA — A crude-oil spill — or spills — of unknown origin closed Lydgate Park yesterday until an O’ahu-based cleanup crew picked up thousands of nickel-to-quarter-sized “tar balls” that had washed up on the beach.

This was after similar spill residue closed down Anahola Bay for two days.

State Department of Health (DOH) and U.S. Coast Guard officials continue to investigate the oil’s origin and impacts on shorelines.

Anahola Bay beaches reopened yesterday, and Lydgate was expected to reopen late last night after an anticipated four-hour cleanup, according to Liz Galvez of the state Department of Health (DOH).

But if warning signs are still posted at Lydgate today, the public is advised to stay away from the beach, she said.

It is not known if the tar balls which washed up on the shore at Anahola are from the same source or spill as those discovered at Lydgate, but the seven miles of shoreline between Anahola and Lydgate were all impacted by some oil, she continued.

Cleanup efforts focused on Lydgate yesterday, as that is where the larger balls were washing ashore. A crew from PENCO (Pacific Environmental Company) flew over to clean up Lydgate yesterday afternoon, she said.

Areas between Anahola and the Wailua River didn’t experience the larger clumps of the heavy crude oil U.S. Coast Guard officials said may have come from a tanker ship bound for a refinery.

“The threat was very minimal, so we won’t be doing a cleanup at Anahola Bay, and we have reopened the beach,” said Galvez, state on-scene coordinator with the DOH Environmental Health Administration Office of Hazard Evaluation and Emergency Response.

The oil being hard and unrefined makes it easier to clean up, but because it is old it makes it more difficult for the Coast Guard to find the source, said Chief Mark Sielaff, a marine science technician chief with the Honolulu Coast Guard’s Marine Environmental Protection department.

The DOH and Coast Guard made an agreement that the DOH would handle cleanup efforts, Sielaff said.

Coast Guard and DOH officials yesterday walked around six miles of beaches, and found mostly dime-sized pieces that would probably not equal 10 gallons if put into one container, Sielaff said. Still, the federal agency is committed to track down the source or sources of the oil. “We try to get the culprit. It’s very hard” when an old spill like this comes ashore, Sielaff said.

“There’s a lot of things going against us at this point, especially this old this late,” he said. “We treat them all. We try to do (investigate) them all,” but sometimes they’re not successful in finding the source of the spill, Sielaff added.

For more information on the situation, contact the DOH Office of Hazard Evaluation and Emergency Response, 274-3141, then 6-4249 and the pound sign (#) after the recorded message.

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