Albany shoreline splattered with oil, beach closed and birds doomed

oiled birdA duck at Albany’s waterfront is drenched by oil spilled in San Francisco Bay Wednesday. Photo by Linjun Fan.

The Albany shoreline has been heavily tainted by Wednesday’s oil spill in San Francisco Bay, when a tanker hit a Bay Bridge tower and leaked 58,000 gallons of oil.

Clods of thick smelly oil lay on the Albany beach, which is now roped off by caution tape. Rocks on the mile-long shoreline are splattered with oily ooze. Dozens of birds struggle to fly with oil-drenched feathers at Albany Bulb. A few died, their bodies buried in solid tar.

“I just started to cry, ” said Jean Derr, a dog-walker at Albany’s waterfront who first saw oil approaching the shore on Wednesday afternoon. “I have been watching over the years. This place has been getting full of beauty and wildlife, and getting cleaner, and now it’s ruined.”

The entire shoreline area of Albany was closed to the public Saturday. East Bay Regional Park District staff are stationed at the entrance of the park to warn people not to enter the area.

“You’ll see us throughout the day trying to educate and giving people the bad news that their routine has to change, ” said Sergio Huerta, a park ranger.

Huerta said that people and their pets should stay away from the waterfront because the spilled oil is toxic, and also because it’s better for rescuing birds, who might be scared from landing.

Albany Mayor Robert Lieber and several other city officials were at the shoreline telling people about the situation Saturday morning, and a special notice has been posted by city staff to advise residents on how to respond to the oil spill.

A joint response team of several federal agencies began a survey of the beach and the Bulb Friday, and a boom has been set up between the Albany Bulb and Point Isabel to protect the bird habitat on the northern Albany marsh, according the notice.

Meanwhile, a helicopter sent by the park district landed at Albany Plateau Friday afternoon to inspect the damage on the waterfront from the spill. Jack Kenney, chief of park operations of the district, said that he hadn’t seen many dead birds before he got into the helicopter.

“But there are a lot of birds that have been oiled that just go out to the water, and they don’t come back, ” said Kenney.

Clean-up work hadn’t started by Saturday noon. Albany doesn’t have the special equipment and personnel needed for cleaning the toxic spill, and the U.S. Coast Guard, a federal agency responsible for oil spill clean-up, hasn’t sent people to Albany to do the job.

“I am trying to find out the information about when and who(will clean up the beach), I don’t have that right now, ” said Albany City Administrator Beth Pollard.

Lieber was getting impatient.

“We want to organize a clean-up of our beach as soon as possible, ” Lieber said. “I haven’t seen anybody cleaning anything, and to me that’s unacceptable. “

A delay in cleanup could make the contamination worse.

“The tides is going to come back in. It’s going to mobilize the stuff and swash it back and forth,” said Geoff Fiedler, a toxic substance expert employed by the city of Berkeley, who was checking on the spill at Albany beach Friday.

Katherine Cody, a homeless person living at the bulb, tried to rescue the birds. Her dog picked up another oiled duck and brought it to camp.

“I didn’t know about the oil spill until I saw the duck,” Cody said. “My dog is good. It didn’t hurt the duck at all.”

(Watch the slideshow below for photos of the oil spill at the Albany shoreline. )

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