Cleanup, monitoring continue at spill site

Posted: Sunday, November 04, 2001

Recovery of the gasoline and diesel fuel spilled from a truck accident Monday at Mile 52 of the Sterling Highway has been slow going and is expected to continue for a few more days at the least, said John Brown of the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation.

"It's never fast," Brown said, referring to the cleanup process. "Cold weather, dealing with the water -- things have a tendency to freeze if you leave water in the hoses. They're having to adjust the short-term plan to increase efficiency."

A fuel tanker, owned by Fisher Fuels Inc., carrying 7,000 gallons of gasoline and 1,800 gallons of diesel fuel overturned in a pond west of Gwin's Lodge in Cooper Landing 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.

Approximately 4,750 gallons of product spilled into the pond. As of 3 p.m. Thursday, an estimated total of 839 gallons of fuel and 24,808 gallons of water have been recovered from the pond using vacuum trucks. H2M Hill and Dowe Engineers of Anchorage are the companies contracted by Fisher Fuels to respond to the spill.

Five vacuum trucks and two 21,000-gallon portable tankers are being used to recover, temporarily store and transport fuel and tainted water from the site to Energy Recovery in Anchorage for disposal. Sorbent materials also are being used in the pond to recover fuel.

"The only tactic they have changed is using sorbent pads on the pond," Brown said. "It creates more solid waste, but it's a very easy and visual way of picking up fuel. The pads work very well when there is a concentration of fuel, but it's very expensive to do that."

Using a vacuum truck, storage tanks and trucks to transport the liquid to Anchorage doesn't carry the recurring costs of buying the sorbent pads, Brown said. Once a pad is saturated it must be double-bagged before it is put in drums and transported, which is a more labor-intensive process.

"Rather than a crew of six or eight, you need a lot of bodies," Brown said.

So far, primary containment efforts within the pond have proven to be very effective, according to a situation report issued by DEC late last week.

The pond containing the spilled product connects to the Kenai River via a culvert that runs under the roadway. Responders blocked the culvert with sorbent pads to keep the contamination from leaking into the river. The pads have to be changed once they become saturated, so cleanup crews built some catchment basins -- small pools lined with heavy plastic below the culvert -- to help catch any leakage when the pads are changed.

The catchment basins also augment monitoring and recovery efforts. The culvert is constantly monitored for any sign of sheen. If a sheen is detected in the catchment basins, it is recovered using sorbent materials.

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.

According to the situation report, environmental consultants hired by Fisher Fuels are testing water discharged from the culvert to see if there is any contamination to the river that may not be readily visible.

As for environmental impacts to the pond and spill area, it is hard to say what damage has been done, Brown said. The long-term cleanup plan will assess damages and deal with those issues once the initial spill is cleaned up.

The contamination in the pond is apparently isolated to the west end because several streams that feed into the pond create a current that pushes the water and spilled fuel toward the west end, Brown said. This is helpful in one sense because it creates a smaller area for cleanup crews to concentrate on. However, the culvert is located at the west end of the pond as well, which makes blocking the discharge from the pond into the river even more important.

To complicate matters, Brown was told by by Fish and Game biologists that the pond is an ideal habitat for silver salmon as it is shallow and full of weeds. The river never got high enough this year for salmon to have access to the pond and, according to Brown, no dead fry have been seen in the pond.

Traffic on the highway is still being affected by the cleanup efforts. When the vacuum trucks are in use traffic is restricted to one lane. Brown cautions drivers to be very careful when traveling through the area.

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