ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Up to 55 gallons of diesel spilled in the Kuskokwim River in Bethel this week when workers used a garden hose and leaking pump to transfer the fuel from a barge to a tank, state and Coast Guard investigators said Friday.
Barge Harvester workers told investigators they thought they'd fixed the pump by setting it on sorbent pads on the ground while the fuel was being transferred Tuesday afternoon to a nearby tank on a truck. The pump had been rigged to the hose and used to suction 700 gallons of red dyed diesel from the barge during the four-hour transfer, Coast Guard Lt. Agneta Dahl said.
''Obviously, it wasn't done correctly,'' she said. ''They used equipment that was not intended for this type of transfer.''
The diesel seeped into the ground and made its way back to the river by Wednesday morning, Dahl said.
The 110-foot-long barge is used as a floating dormitory for fish processing workers and is owned by Inlet Fisheries. Coast Guard officials say the Kenai-based company also owns the Maren 1, a World War Two-vintage ship used to house fish processing workers that spilled a few hundred gallons of diesel into the Kuskokwim in May.
The company has agreed to hire a vacuum truck operator to correctly transfer the 400 gallons of diesel that remain on the Harvester, Dahl said.
Company representatives could not be reached for comment Friday.
This week's spill was discovered Wednesday morning by joggers who noticed a sheen spreading 50 to 100 yards along the river, according to Bethel Fire Department Chief George Young. He said the joggers reported the slick to the fire department.
When it was discovered, the spill was collecting behind the tug Chena, which is owned by Anchorage-based Yutana Barge Lines. However, the Chena was quickly ruled out as the source of the spill. The tug uses clear fuel while the spill was clearly an old kind that used to be dyed red, said Harry Young, an evironmental specialist with the state Department of Environmental Conservation, which is investigating along with the Coast Guard.
Although the Chena had nothing to do with the spill, the tug's crew cleaned up the spill with a boom, sorbents and a small skimmer, Young said.
After the spill was traced to the Harvester, the DEC issued a notice of violation to the barge owner. The agency alleges violations of state laws, including polution and failing to report the incident. Young said that if the Attorney General's office decides to prosecute, owners face up to $100,000 in civil fines.
Dahl said the Coast Guard is still investigating and that no citations have been issued yet in either spill involving Inlet Fisheries.
However, the Coast Guard did send a letter of appreciation to Yutana Barge Lines for the clean-up efforts by the Chena crew.
''It wasn't their spill but the did the whole cleanup anyway,'' Dahl said. ''(Yutana) offered their equipment in the Maren 1 spill, too.''
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