The Valdez Star - Serving Prince William Sound and Copper River Basin

By Lee Revis
Editor, Valdez Star 

Fuel spill cleanup on highway continuing for awhile

DEC says removing debris then filling in gaps will be time consuming


Photo courtesy ADEC

The Alaska Petroleum Distributors, Inc fuel tanker after it was righted shortly after the December 9 rollover.

Clean up efforts for the December 9 fuel spill on the Richardson Highway will be ongoing for some time DEC officials said Monday.

Drivers can expect delays during daylight hours around Mile 48 for some time said Steven Russell, the on scene coordinator for Alaska Dept. of Environmental Conservation (DEC).

"As the situation report states, we need folks to be cognoscente of what's going on out there," he said in telephonic interview Monday, urging drivers to use caution in the cleanup area. "We certainly don't want them coming up short and getting into a wreck."

Efforts to clean up the 4,400 gallon fuel spill in the area slowed during the December holidays, but began ramping up again Tuesday according to a situation report issued by the DEC Monday. There has been a single line of traffic open since the spill occurred after a tanker truck operated by Alaska Petroleum Distributors, Inc. overturned on the highway and spilled it entire load of light diesel onto the road.

The Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, has assumed "overall operational control of the response," the report said. "A modified Unified Command process will remain in place."

While the spilled diesel did not make its way into Tiekel River or any of the numerous streams feeding the river, the area is considered highly sensitive.

Russell said clean up contractors have removed 20 double side-dump loads of contaminated soil, gravel, ice and snow from the site, equaling approximately 650 cubic yards of debris. He said more will be removed this week.

So how long longer will it take to clean up the contamination?

"Boy, I'm not sure," Russell said. "A week, maybe a little bit longer."

But then, restoration efforts begin.

"That has to be done with proper material," Russell said. "We have a significant amount of water movement there in the spring."

Removal of contaminates is only half the job. The area must be restored to withstand the whims of Mother Nature. A worse scenario would likely occur in the area if the area was left unrestored.

"That would be catastrophic to you folks in Valdez," he said, "and the folks further up."

Environmental Quality Management is the lead contractor on the site.

"They're the lead contractor on the site," Russell said.

Alaska State Troopers (AST) said the driver of the rig, Lawrence Cook, age 65 of North Pole, lost control of the rig pulling double tanker-trailers for Alaska Petroleum Distributor while northbound near Milepost 47 on December 9.

According to the AST report, Cook drove off the edge of the roadway, which was covered in ice and snow, causing the rear tanker trailer to overturn, spilling an estimated 4,400 gallons of low-sulfur diesel onto the roadway near Tiekel. Cook was issued a citation for basic speed and driving too fast for road conditions.


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