Oil spilled more than three weeks ago by a grounded tanker in Prince William Sound has slipped past protective booms and skimmers to foul beaches at Seward.
The Resurrection Bay community became the first town outside the Sound to have its beaches oiled. It was the 25th day since the Exxon Valdez ran aground on Bligh Reef and spilled more than 10 million gallons of North Slope crude.
"We're saddened to see it come this far up the bay. We were hoping it wouldn't," said Deputy City Manager Darryl Schaefermeyer.
The same southeast winds blamed for driving oil to the head of Resurrection Bay also pushed oil northwest in the Sound onto previously unfouled beaches on Perry and Lone islands. Winds were expected to moderate, becoming variable in the Sound today, according to the National Weather Service.
Foul weather Monday made oil tracking in other areas difficult. However, state and federal teams reported oil had not advanced more than a few miles into Kachemak Bay, keeping about 30 miles to the southwest of Homer.
Monday evening, state fisheries biologists approved today's scheduled opening of a herring fishery in Kamishak Bay, on the west side of Cook Inlet. Biologists were poised to close the fishery if the oil that has stalled at Cape Douglas swung into the bay.
The Seward oil, first reported Monday morning, was thick and mixed with kelp and seaweed and lying in a band up to 10 feet wide at the high tide line, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation. The oiled area of beach was about 2,000 feet long.
"I got some on my shoes. We gathered some up in a Dixie cup," Schaefermeyer said.
He said the oiled beach is about 2 miles from the center of town, and that crews began cleaning up the oil Monday afternoon. Because it was mixed with vegetation in a sort of gooey mat, he said, it appeared the oil would not soak into the beach but could be picked up.
The day after oil from the March 24 spill first drifted out of the Sound and into the Gulf of Alaska, officials in Seward declared an emergency. It was the first town outside the Sound to mobilize an oilspill defense.
"We didn't want to sit around and wait for it," Mayor Harry Gieseler said at the time, noting the importance of fishing and tourism to the local economy.
Though boom has been strung to keep the oil out of several salmon streams that run into the bay, Schaefermeyer said, "We couldn't boom the whole bay." Oil skimmers, under the direction of the Coast Guard and Exxon, have been working areas near the mouth of the bay for several days.
Schaefermeyer said absorbent booms were deployed offshore Monday, and that more booms may be placed to deflect oil toward shore at selected places, where it could be contained.
The weather was windy and the water choppy Monday, making it difficult to determine how much more oil was in the bay, he said. More surveys were planned for today.
The Homer spill response team reported tabletop sized patches of foamy oil into the mouth of Kachemak Bay at Port Graham, but said the oil had not been sighted ashore.
Oil is stacking up along parts of the outer coast of the Kenai Peninsula, in some places pooling up several inches deep, said Coast Guard Lt. Jerry Wilson in Homer. Two U.S. Navy skimmers were dispatched from Port Graham to try to corral that oil, he said.
Reports of oil along the outer Kenai coast and along the coast of Katmai National Park on the Alaska Peninsula remained spotty. For instance, the Coast Guard could not confirm the sighting, reported by the National Park Service, of a band of oil foam stretching across Kamishak Bay from Mount Augustine to McNeil River.
Another report indicated spotters may be missing oiled beaches even when looking closely. Anne Castellina, superintendent of Kenai Fjords National Park, said oil is collecting under rocks on the beaches, virtually invisible.
Castellina returned Sunday from a boat trip along the park's rugged coast. At Thunder Bay, she said: "We were looking at the beach from 50 or 60 feet offshore, and it looked pristine. There was an eagle on a snag, with its wings outstretched. We thought maybe it was just drying its wings, but we decided to take a look. Two people went ashore. The eagle flew off. But when they looked around, there was oil everywhere.
"There was thick crude oil, like taffy, under the rocks. There were crevices filled with oil and dead birds."
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