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Oil slick from Elly pipeline spill on October 4, 2021 (Photo: YouTube screenshot)

U.S. Small Business Administration Declares Orange County Oil Spill a Disaster, To Give Federal Disaster Assistance

Many affected businesses are still seeing lower than usual revenues almost a month after the spill

By Evan Symon, October 28, 2021 2:16 pm

Governor Gavin Newsom announced late Wednesday that the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) has approved federal disaster assistance for those businesses hurt during the recent Orange County Oil Spill off the coast of Huntington Beach.

The spill, first detected on October 1st, is currently still under investigation by both state and federal employees. Officials believe that the pipeline that sprung the leak had likely been dragged for over 100 feet earlier this year by a container ship with its anchor down. The pipeline, which connects the Elly drilling platform off the coast to the Long Beach Harbor, then finally broke open, sending 3,000 barrels, or, 126,000 gallons, of post production crude oil into the ocean, becoming larger than other recent oil spills in California, such as the Refugio oil spill in Santa Barbara County in 2015.

While beaches reopened quickly, with most only staying closed around a week, the loss of beach traffic, as well as the closure or partial closure of some events during that time such as the Pacific Airshow in Huntington Beach, severely affected local businesses. Many reported losses of 40%-50%, with those directly tied to beach events, such as rental places and beach businesses offering lessons, saw losses go as high as 90%.

Businesses on or near the affected beaches have noted rebounds in the following weeks. But those businesses also have said that traffic is still down from where it should be.

“Compared to every year but last year’s COVID-affected numbers, we are still seeing people reluctant to come near the beach as much,” Lorraine Bishop, a local art business owner in Huntington Beach, told the Globe on Thursday. “Niche businesses like mine, well, it’s only 10, maybe 20%. But a lot of restaurants and places that rely on tourists are still feeling the pinch. And this was supposed to be our time to recover from COVID. This just makes that all the more longer.”

SBA assistance for affected businesses in Southern California

With so many businesses affected, or still being affected by the spill, the SBA declared Orange County a disaster area on Wednesday, allowing for federal disaster assistance to be given to affected businesses. Low interest loans will be issued to businesses which need to recover in the county, as well as those in the surrounding counties of Los Angeles, Riverside, San Bernardino, and San Diego.

Governor Gavin Newsom  (Photo: State of California video)

“California is committed to supporting the communities and local economies that have been affected by this spill and we thank the Biden Administration for this assistance to help impacted businesses get back on their feet. We’ll continue to coordinate with federal, state and local partners to ensure the recovery of this vibrant region,” said Governor Newsom in a statement on Wednesday.

On Thursday, businesses who have been seeking out assistance gave the new loans a lukewarm reception.

“I mean, this is better than nothing, but you can’t blame this on an act of God or something,” Anthony Virzi, a local small business owner currently looking at assistance to recover from the economic affects of the spill, told the Globe. “There is a direct cause by someone or something here. This is just a band aid. This is not accountability and this does nothing to help our lost reputation.”

While other forms of assistance and monetary settlement are likely in the coming months, especially when the party responsible for the rupture is conclusively identified by investigators, so far the SBA loans are one of the few types of assistance made available.

For those wishing to receive SBA assistance, they can apply online, call the SBA customer service center at 800-659-2955 or e-mail disastercustomerservice@sba.gov.

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