West Coast
In an aerial view, container ships are anchored by the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles as they wait to offload on Sept. 20, 2021. Amid nationwide record-high demand for imported goods and supply chain issues, the twin ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach have seen unprecedented congestion. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

CA - Southern California coast hit with both good and bad news in 2021

Oil and sewage spills hurt, but there were a number of positive steps made for future coastal health.

While Southern California’s shores weathered a few tough blows this year, the local coast also saw key steps toward safeguarding its future.

On the downside were the oil spill in waters off Huntington Beach, pollution generated by backlogged port ships, the Hyperion sewage spill in Playa del Rey, and the extension of the life of the gas-fired Redondo power plant.

But other events this year were good for the coastal environment. Approval of an offshore windmill bill will buoy clean energy efforts, Banning Ranch activists made a deal to buy and preserve the largest private undeveloped parcel on the Southern California coast, and lawmakers in Sacramento passed legislation to reduce plastic waste and to adapt to sea-level rise.

Huntington Beach oil spill

Information seeped out in drips and drabs over several days, with the best news being that the Oct. 1 oil spill off the coast of Huntington Beach was initially estimated at 130,000 gallons but turned out to be more like 25,000 gallons. Coast Guard officials believe a ship’s anchor caught and dragged a pipeline connected to an offshore oil platform. This could have weakened the pipeline, and then a subsequent anchor strike or deterioration of the exposed pipe may have led to the 13-inch split that leaked oil.

Waters offshore of Huntington Beach, Newport Beach and Laguna Beach were put off limits, with the last closure ending Oct. 14. Oil entered the wildlife-rich Talbert Marsh, contributing to a recorded toll of 82 dead birds and six dead sea mammals, including three sea lions. Fishing was banned off Orange County’s coast through November. On Dec. 15, the U.S. Department of Justice announced indictments related to the spill, charging that Amplify Energy, owner of the pipeline, and two of its subsidiaries, failed to properly respond to eight separate leak alarms over 13 hours and that they improperly restarted a pipeline that had been shut down.

Banning Ranch

The 400-acre Banning Ranch is the largest undeveloped, privately owned land on Southern California’s coast, and the site of more than 20 years of battles between developers and environmentalists. The land on the north coast of Newport Beach features a broad range of prized wildlife habitats, including wetlands, arroyos and coastal bluffs.

Banning Ranch in Newport Beach, seen above, is on track to be purchased for permanent open space and recreational use, although a portion remains zoned for housing and some city officials say the land is needed to meet housing requirements. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

For those hoping to maintain it as open space for the public to enjoy, the light at the end of the tunnel finally appeared this year. The Trust for Public Land negotiated purchase of the property, provided it can come up with $97 million by next June. Developer and philanthropist Frank Randall and his wife, Joann, had given $50 million to the project in 2019, which jump started the process. The trust raised $33 million more this year through state and federal grants, leaving them a relatively modest $14 million short of the goal with six months to go.

Hyperion sewage spill

When debris clogged a filtering screen at the Playa del Rey’s Hyperion sewage treatment plant and began flooding the facility, on July 11, officials intentionally discharged 17 million tons of raw sewage into the ocean a mile offshore through an emergency discharge pipe to avoid additional flooding and damage. Portions of Dockweiler State Beach and El Segundo Beach remained closed until July 15.

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