airboats clean up Kalamazoo River oil spill


published Jun. 22, 2011, 10h11
by Sarah Lambert

Augusta, Michigan — Workers in protective white suits stood in airboats parked behind lines of boom. The poles the men held aloft were sucking water from the Kalamazoo River’s surface and pumping it into the river’s bottom. A smaller boat nearby was collecting oil that, agitated by the water stream, was floating to the surface.

Kalamazoo River - stinger oil probe

Workers use stingers to probe for submerged oil about a mile upstream from Shady Bend Campground on the Kalamazoo River near Augusta Tuesday afternoon.

The boat crews on the Kalamazoo River just east of Augusta were tackling one of 214 spots with submerged oil issues after last July’s 843,000-gallon oil spill in Fredonia Township, Talmadge Creek and the Kalamazoo River.

There were about 216 people on the river and 450 responders on the scene Tuesday, said Christopher Haux, operations manager for Enbridge Inc., the international pipeline company responsible for the spill.

The company stepped up its response this week after receiving detailed data from a recently completed analysis of the spill’s damage.

“Now that we’ve got a real good understanding through the reassessment process, we can focus our efforts and see where we need to go,” Haux said.

For the last couple months, Enbridge has been working with federal, state and local regulators to evaluate the oil remaining in the creek and river.

Kalamazoo River - containment boom

Containment and absorbing boom still is found in parts of the Kalamazoo River, as seen about a mile upstream from Shady Bend Campground near Augusta Tuesday afternoon.

“The reassessment activities have been pretty intense through March, April, May and the early part of June,” said Ralph Dollhopf, senior on-scene coordinator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The assessment’s goal was to map remaining contamination on the water bodies’ shorelines and below the water’s surface, Dollhopf said. Nearly 80 miles of shoreline were surveyed and poles were dipped to the river’s bottom to check for oil that sank below the surface.

“We think that, by working with Enbridge, we were able to get a really good, effective assessment to get a good idea of where to look for oil and what types of cleanup (are needed),” Dollhopf said.

Indicators such as pockets of submerged oil, stained vegetation and sheen on the surface of the water have helped crews discover what areas to target in summer cleanup, said Jason Manshum, Enbridge’s senior adviser in community relations.

Kalamazoo River - Semo Environmental Airboat

Semo Environmental Airboat

There is residual oil on Talmadge Creek, in areas between Ceresco and Battle Creek, in the Mill Pond vicinity and at the delta of the Kalamazoo River and Morrow Lake, Dollhopf said. The cleanup plan is dynamic and could change as needed, he said.

There could potentially be 20 submerged oil cleanup crews by the end of the week, said Becky Haase, senior public affairs adviser for Enbridge. Eight crews could be working the delta of Morrow Lake by the Fourth of July, and there are six shoreline sites that need excavation, Haase said.

Of the 240 surface cleanup sites identified, 151 had been completed, Haase said.

The deadline for all the reassessment-related work to be completed is Aug. 31, Haux said.

“It’s just another process, and when this is done in August, we’ll move on to the next step,” Haux said.

View Kalamazoo River near Augusta, Michigan in a larger map

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