Crews recover 4,200 gallons of fuel recovered from spill

Posted: Wednesday, October 31, 2001

Salvage crews recovered approximately 4,200 gallons of fuel in initial cleanup efforts after a tanker truck carrying 8,800 gallons of fuel overturned Monday afternoon in Cooper Landing. Damage from the spill appeared minimal.

"They were able to get 2,550 gallons of pure gasoline and 1,680 gallons of gasoline and diesel mixture last night," Department of Environmental Conservation environmental specialist John Brown said Tuesday afternoon. "This afternoon they pulled another 7,560 gallons of product and water from the pond."

The fuel tanker, owned by Fisher Fuels Inc., was carrying 7,000 gallons of gasoline and 1,800 gallons of diesel fuel when it overturned near Gwin's Lodge shortly after 1 p.m. Monday. The highway was closed for approximately 9 1/2 hours while crews cleaned up the spill and recovered the tractor trailer, according to Alaska State Troopers.

A team from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game drifted down the Kenai River Tuesday looking for any signs of sheen that might have escaped containment. The initial findings of the group were positive.

"It looks good," said Fish and Game project leader Tim McKinley. "We floated down the river for several miles, but didn't see anything."

McKinley said water samples will be taken, and his team will do more inspecting of the river throughout the week.

The truck overturned into a pond south of the Kenai River and connected to the river by a culvert running underneath the highway.

The accident scene is about three miles from the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, but Clair Caldes of the refuge said there has been no report of the spill affecting the refuge.

"The river goes through the refuge, so if it (the fuel) had gotten into the river, it would have definitely gotten into the refuge. We're just monitoring it to make sure," Caldes said.

DEC crews, who had plugged the culvert connecting the pond where the truck crashed and the river Monday night, found some evidence of leaking Tuesday morning.

"There was some minor sheening," Brown said. "We're working on finding a way to keep the sheen from coming through the culvert."

He said salvage workers had to replace the original sorbent pads used to block the spill because they were full.

DEC will continue to monitor the flow of water and fuel through the culvert, "so if some more sheen shows up, we're right on it," Brown said.

He predicted that cleanup would last at least two or three more days. He said Fisher Fuels is hiring environmental contractors to do a full assessment of the impact of the fuel on the pond, how far the fuel traveled and the amount of contamination.

"Then they can develop the best way of handling that contamination," he said.

Three trucks with Cooper Landing volunteer firefighters responded to the accident, deploying booms to stop the spill.

Todd Wilson, Cooper Landing fire chief, said debris in the culvert helped to slow the flow of fuel.

"The culvert was all plugged up from ice and mud and rocks and trees," Wilson said. "That's what really stopped it. The river was really low, too."

Troopers said no charges were filed in the accident that caused an estimated $100,000 in damage.

"The driver said he lost it on the ice," said trooper Lt. Tom Bowman. "It was slick."

When troopers closed the highway off, Skyview students returning from a field trip to Seward's Alaska SeaLife Center found themselves stranded.

"They were trying to be back by about 3 o'clock," said Allan Stewart, assistant principal at Skyview. "They just missed the window of opportunity."

The group contacted Christine Ermold, teacher-principal at Cooper Landing Elementary School, where they waited until the road was reopened.

"She was a lifesaver," Stewart said of Ermold.

Ermold said the Kenai Princess Lodge was a big help, making the students' Monday night wait comfortable.

"We got them some blankets and a bunch of cheeseburgers," said lodge manager Jim Bankson.

Ermold said she and the Skyview group waited in the school gymnasium where students contacted family and watched movies until they found out the road was cleared.

The group made it back to Skyview shortly after midnight.

Bankson said he was glad to have helped out.

"I know they went home with a full stomach," he said.

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