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Small tar balls have been washing up on area beaches, and covering vegetation that washes up as well. Crews have been working on beaches as far south as Ocean City, Md., to clean up the remnants of an oil spill more than a week ago. Now estimated at 65 tons, the spill's origin remains unknown.

As of Wednesday, Oct. 28, the cleanup of tar balls and oil debris, originally centered around Broadkill Beach, was extended along the shoreline from Bowers Beach to Ocean City, Md.

Beachgoers were “strongly advised to stay out of the water and to avoid walking along the wrack line on the beach, which is the line of vegetation and debris deposited by each high tide.

Beaches in Bethany Beach, Dewey Beach and Lewes were officially closed until further notice, with advisories issued for beaches along the entire range of the spill. The four-wheel-drive surf-fishing crossing at Beach Plum Island Preserve, managed by Delaware State Parks, was also closed to prevent vehicles from tracking oil in the sand and hampering cleanup efforts.

Crews on Wednesday were picking up coin-size to pancake-size pieces of weathered tar along the beaches, according to the Delaware Department of Natural Resource & Environmental Control.

“We’re not sure how long oily debris will continue to wash up with the tide,” said DNREC Secretary Shawn Garvin, who was on the scene Wednesday surveying oil on the Delaware beaches. “I have put out a call for additional resources from within DNREC this week and the response has been outstanding — with their help and the effort from our federal partner the Coast Guard, we’re making progress on this incident,” Garvin said.

The unified command dispatched the cleanup crews to South Bethany on Tuesday, ahead of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which had started a planned beach replenishment there. DNREC Secretary Garvin also dispatched an advance crew of 15 DNREC personnel to comb the beach at South Bethany for tar balls and oil patties before new sand was pumped onto the beach there.

DNREC is working with the Corps of Engineers’ replenishment contractor to ensure that any significant deposits of oil sighted on the beach can be removed before sand pumped ashore could cover it over.

With the collision of Tropical Storm Zeta and a winter storm likely to make working conditions difficult later in the week, officials said they might suspend the cleanup operation temporarily while the storm passes through, before resuming it over the weekend and continuing into next week.

The public is being asked to continue reporting any findings of oil patties or oiled wildlife. For reports concerning the Delaware coastline, call DNREC’s environmental hotline at 1-800-662-8802. For reports concerning the Maryland coastline, call the Maryland Department of the Environment at 1-866-633-4686.

Staff Reporter

Kerin majored in journalism at Ohio University and has worked as an editor and reporter for monthly, daily and weekly publications in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Delaware since 1983. A native of Baltimore, Md., she has lived in Ocean View since 1996.