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Sewage Spill Source Could Face Fine

An alleged leak from a Long Beach homeowners association piping system led to the closure of Alamitos Bay beaches and the northern section of Seal Beach's shoreline, officials say.

Long Beach health officials investigating a sewage spill into Los Cerritos Channel found improved water quality but still beyond state limits for bacteria, keeping Alamitos Bay beaches closed until at least Saturday morning.

The spill led to the brief closure the northern section of Seal Beach shore on Tuesday, which reopened later in the week.

Nelson Kerr, manager of the Long Beach Health Dept.'s bureau of environmental health, said Thursday that testing results take about 24 hours, and that Wednesday's samples ready Thursday morning "looked a lot better" everywhere but two Alamitos Bay locations.

Kerr said the bacteria samples taken at Mother's Beach and at the Bay Shore beach at the Second Street bridge Wednesday exceeded state health and safety code standards, meaning all the beaches must remain closed until two consecutive days' tests return within the limits.

If Thursday morning and Friday morning sampling at numerous sites are below bacteria limits, Alamitos Bay beaches could be opened for swimming or other in-water uses by Saturday morning. The waterfronts impacted include Mother's Beach, Bayshore Beach, the Peninsula bay side, Marine Stadium, and Naples Island. Those waterfronts on open ocean are clear for use, Kerr said.

Long Beach has had beach closures from sewage spills before. But Kerr said Thursday that they've always, to his knowlege, involved public pipelines but not private property spills or leaks.

Thus, the investigation into what allegedly was about a 16-hour delay in reporting the sewage leak on a private street in gated Bixby Hill, would be the first by the city, Kerr said.

A violation of the state Health and Safety Code requiring immediate spill reporting is a misdemeanor, with a fine of between $500 to $1,000, Kerr said.

A call to Bixby Hill Community Association manager Thursday afternoon was received by an answering service but has not yet been returned. But Kerr said his department will be meeting Friday morning with at least one homeowner association member to discuss the case.

According to the resident who reported the spill and Kerr, a leakage of sewer waste was first discovered Saturday and reported by the resident to a homeowner association board member. The resident of Bixby Terrace Road, a private street about parallel to Seventh Street but on the hill, said he awoke Sunday morning to find the spill had not been reported to city officials and called on an emergency water department line.

Kerr said a sump pump in a sewage system serving 18 to 20 homes in the development failed, causing sewage bound for city pipes to instead back up, overflow a catch reservoir then leak up through manhole covers and flow down the street. The flow reached nearby Los Cerritos Channel, which flows to the sea.

Because of proximity, Long Beach alerted Orange County, and Seal Beach closed off the water 500 feet south of the San Gabriel River mouth, but beaches tested safe for two days and they were opened to the public either Tuesday or Wednesday, Kerr said.

The environmental health department staff got the report from the water department at 11:50 a.m. Sunday and were on scene soon after. Sampling had to be conducted at numerous locations fronting Alamitos Bay, Kerr said.

"It's not real common that a sewage spill reaches the ocean that is from a private system," Kerr said. "it's fairly unique and that's why we are investigating it thoroughly.... in several places, the (process) broke down."

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