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Oil spill touches Bainbridge shores

Oil that spilled in South Puget Sound last week lapped at the shores of Bainbridge Island but is not expected to significantly impact wildlife or habitat.

A thin sheen of oil was first sighted Friday off Restoration Point and spread to Eagle Harbor and the island’s south shore over the weekend, according to city officials and state Department of Ecology reports.

Gale Cool, the onsite monitor of the Schel-chelb estuary, found dime-sized oil deposits on the surface of the lagoon at Lynwood Center Saturday. He also observed a very thin sheen in the eddies at the lagoon’s outlet.

Cool doubts the oil has significantly hurt the area’s wildlife, including a gathering population of chum and coho salmon. He predicted that the lagoon’s constant discharge will prevent major beach contamination.

Peter Namtvedt Best, a planner coordinating the city’s response to the spill, said the oil reported around the island is extremely thin and difficult to clean.

“The sheen is only a few molecules deep and is very hard to collect,” he said.

Best doesn’t expect the DOE will expand its clean-up efforts to the island. The DOE is focusing its efforts in Ollala Bay and Vashon Island beaches.

“Most of what we have here will be bio-consumed – absorbed into sand and gravel and digested by organisms,” he said. “It’s not necessarily a good thing and doesn’t take it out of the (ecosystem), but it controls the spread.”

About 1,000 gallons of oil spilled off the southern tip of Vashon Island late Wednesday night or early Thursday.

Tugboat captain and Indianola resident Bill Sibbett discovered the spill and alerted the U.S. Coast Guard at 1:15 a.m. Thursday. Cleanup did not begin until 10 a.m.; by then, the slick had crept onto Vashon and Maury island beaches. Coast Guard investigators said Monday they had narrowed the search for the spill’s culprit to two commercial ships.

South Sound cleanup workers have found a handful of contaminated seabirds and a dead seal pup with oil on its fur. No fish have been reported lost, but DOE workers hope to clean eelgrass beds before herring return to the Sound for winter spawning.

About 85 people are cleaning beaches, with nearly six tons of oily driftwood, seaweed and other debris raked from South Sound shores, according to the DOE.

Best checked various sites around Bainbridge on Monday, finding only a one square-foot oil patch in Eagle Harbor. Two recent DOE-led crew visits and an aerial survey Monday found no new or persistent sheens.

“Eagle Harbor was the farthest north the spill was observed,” said DOE spokesman Larry Altose, adding that his agency has not observed oil around the island since Saturday. “In the Bainbridge area, the oil has mixed into the water and integrated into the environment, but we expect only a minimal impact in the area.”

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The state Department of Ecology is advising residents to avoid contact with oil. Use soap and water to wash it from skin. Do not use solvents, kerosene or similar products. Do not burn driftwood or other debris contaminated with oil. Ingestion of oil may cause nausea or stomach ache. Skin contact may cause a rash.

The Bainbridge Harbor Commission notes that Eagle Harbor is experiencing a plankton bloom and its brown color could be mistaken for oil. The commission is asking observers to check for a rainbow sheen or fuel smells to verify for oil.

To report oil on beaches or in the water, call 1-800-OILS-911. To report oil-contaminated wildlife, call 1-800-22-BIRDS.

Boaters who suspect their vessel may be oiled from the spill should call (253) 591-5960 to arrange for an inspection or professional cleaning.

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