Oil spill cleanup continues

Members of the Suquamish Tribe will have to wait a little longer to find out when they can go clamming in waters just off their reservation on the Kitsap Peninsula.

Wildlife officials had been hoping to scale back the cleanup effort, but that was delayed when a patch of oil-coated beach was discovered last week, and because all of the known oily locations had not been completely cleaned.

The state Department of Health is waiting for the cleanup effort to wind down before testing to see if the shellfish are safe to eat.

That testing won’t happen until all visibly oiled material is removed or cleaned, said Larry Altose, a state Department of Ecology spokesman.

"We’re getting close to the end of the active cleanup," Altose said.

Once the physical cleanup ends, a monitoring phase will begin.

Much of the 4,637 gallons of fuel oil that escaped in a Dec. 30 spill off Point Wells in Edmonds washed up on the tribe’s Doe-Keg-Wats marsh, a critical area for shellfish harvesting. Cleanup efforts have since removed most of the oil.

Harvesting shellfish — in this case a number of different species of clams — from Point Jefferson to Indianola has been off-limits since the spill.

The Department of Health won’t test to see if the shellfish are clean enough to eat until the cleanup effort is scaled back, said Bob Woolrich, growing area manager for the department’s shellfish program.

"We want to make sure they’re safe for human consumption," Woolrich said.

Suquamish Tribe members are eager to get access to the waters off their land, said Leonard Forsman, a spokesman for the tribe.

"Of course, the tribe is anxious to have the beaches reopened, but only if those beaches are safe for shellfish consumption," Forsman said.

Manila and butter clams and cockles will be among the species tested at a variety of places affected by the oil. Clams from places unaffected by the spill also will be tested for comparison.

Clams tested right after the spill showed high levels of oil contamination, Woolrich said, adding that he would expect the clams to be significantly cleaner, if not oil-free, by the time the tests are done.

"They do a pretty through job of washing this stuff out of their system," he said, adding that there were no reported shellfish deaths linked to the oil spill.

None, all or part of beaches could be reopened to clamming. Once tester clams are taken, it will take about a month to get the results back.

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