HARD AGROUND - Wreck of the Exxon Valdez - March 24, 1989



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Anchorage Daily News
Date: 04/08/89
Day: Saturday
Edition: Final
Section: Nation
Page: A1

ANCHORAGE- Oil slicks riding currents out of Prince William Sound skirted Kenai Fjords National Park on Friday, but the vanguard of pollution was poised to curl into Cook Inlet.

The oil sheen at the leading edge of the migrating spill was spotted south of Gore Point, in open water between the tip of the Kenai Peninsula and Kodiak Island.

"You could expect to see sheen moving into Cook Inlet," said John Murphy, a data analyst with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Valdez.

When that may happen depends on the current, and the wind, which was forecast Friday to shift, coming out of the south at about 10 miles an hour through the weekend. That could drive oil ashore, and into fishrich Kachemak Bay.

"If the wind shifts, we could have oil in the bay this weekend," said Homer Mayor John Calhoun.

For most of the 10 days since the oil spilled by the Exxon Valdez on March 24 started escaping the Sound, the wind has been from the north and northeast, keeping the slicks off the mainland.

Emergency managers are scrambling to find protective boom, Calhoun said, and he thought enough would be found to keep oil away from some environmentally sensitive areas.

Bill McLaughlin, rescue chief with the Homer Volunteer Fire Department and a member of the spill response team, said areas to be protected first with the boom include popular king salmon sport fishing areas on the tip of the Homer Spit and in Halibut Cove lagoon, on the south side of Kachemak Bay. Also, he said, booms would be strung to keep oil away from the state fish hatchery in Tutka Bay lagoon.

"The oil is a little too close for my comfort," said Fred Elvsaas, president of the Seldovia Native Association. "As I see it, if it hits here at low tide it could be sucked up in here," he said.

Murphy said information from spilltracking flights Friday indicated the slicks may be breaking up in the wind and waves of the Gulf of Alaska. While the surface sheen continues moving with the current at about 15 miles per day, he said, the heavier streaks and patches of the main oil front did not appear to advance Friday, he said.

From the air, the oil slicks look like metallic tentacles, stretched by the wind and swirled by eddies, said Anne Castellina, superintendent of Kenai Fjords National Park, who flew over the advancing oil Thursday.

By Friday afternoon, slick trackers had plotted the edge of the oil within a quartermile of much of the park's convoluted shoreline, but not into the bays and fiords. "There seems to be a loose equilibrium, with the wind and current shifting it back and forth," said park service spokesman John Quinley.

Oil already has swept onto Resurrection Cape, at the mouth of the bay of the same name, and onto several nearshore islands, including the Chiswells and the Pyes.

Though there were reports Thursday of oiled birds near the Chiswells, the response team headquarters in Seward did not have a count of animals hurt or killed by the oil.

Hammered by the wind and the sea, those two island groups provide summer homes for about threequarters of the sea birds on the Kenai Peninsula's outer coast, said Ed Bailey, a biologist with the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service.

The Barren Islands, which can house half a million birds in summer, are directly in line of the advancing sheen. Bailey, after walking several beaches on those islands Thursday, said it appears most of the seasonal bird population has not arrived.

Castellina said no practical method could be devised to protect the exposed headlands and islands, so efforts were concentrated on several salmon steams and lagoons.

While many eyes were on the advancing edge of the slicks, a U.S. Navy oil skimmer boat arrived in Seward Friday and will be deployed today, Quinley said. The vessel will concentrate on oil floating near the mouth of Resurrection Bay, he said.

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