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About the Thomas Fire Mud on the Beach

Heal the Ocean Asks for Agency Support


Heal the Ocean has received numerous (some irate) phone calls regarding the mud being deposited on Goleta and Carpinteria beaches. Television media has also called for a response from us. We told them, and everyone else, we were investigating and would let everyone know when we knew the answer. We at HTO (Heal the Ocean) don’t believe environmental knee-jerk reactions help anything, least of all the environment.

First, the Thomas Fire/mudslide is a disaster of enormous proportions. Possibly the worst since the Earthquake of 1925 took down the Potter Hotel. The 101 Freeway is still closed, and as this commentary is written, now closed indefinitely, because the workers, as they remove mud and debris, are carefully combing the water and debris for bodies of missing persons.

More importantly, the decision to deposit mud on Goleta and Carpinteria beaches is a decision not made lightly by the numerous agencies charged with dealing with this massive problem — including public works officials from the city and county of Santa Barbara, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, CalTrans, and the contractors themselves.

Prudent decision-making is harder in a time of disaster of this magnitude (think Katrina), but a decision-making process is put in place nonetheless, to consider the options. Tom Fayram, deputy director of Santa Barbara County Public Works, told Heal the Ocean on Friday that “when the mud is 10 feet high on a telephone pole on Danielson Road [Montecito], and when people are still missing, maybe buried in mud … we have only a few options, the chief one of which is to return the community to normal as soon as possible.

“That is what we are doing to the best of our abilities,” Fayram said. “After we get the community back in shape, people can slap me all they want.”

Beyond that, all those concerned with the water quality of the ocean need to know the following:

• There are two County Environmental Planners at each site, inspecting “every single truckload,” and those that don’t meet requirements are turned away … to a site off Highway 154;

• Debris and vegetation is going to a site in Buellton and/or Ventura County Fairgrounds for holding until future disposal decisions can be made.

Ventura County is helping. Many agencies that have weighed the options available to solve this massive problem are working night and day. Dogs are being employed to find missing people buried in mud and debris.

Heal the Ocean asks all ocean lovers and surfers (who should accept the fact they shouldn’t get into the water right now) to support the agencies working hard to get us out of this mess.

And our thoughts and prayers go out to all those still searching for loved ones.

Hillary Hauser is executive director of Heal the Ocean.

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