By Heidi Zemach for SCN
The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation was called late on Friday night, May 17th to investigate 6-8 damaged fifty-gallon drums of oil that were apparently leaking their contents onto property near Salmon Creek, off Nash Road and the Seward Highway. The spill was reported by someone walking in the area of “Eadsville,” off Salmon Creek Road who noticed the leaky barrels and puddles with rainbow sheens near the creek bank, which had eroded, and was spilling fresh water onto the property. The person was concerned about the effects of contaminated oil being washed into the creek, especially this close to salmon- spawning season.
Salmon Creek, along with its tributaries is officially listed as an “Anadromous Fish Stream” by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, with Coho-rearing specified, said Gary Williams, the Kenai Peninsula Borough’s River Center manager. But locals also have noted a variety of other fish species in the stream, and various birds use it such as dippers, gulls, bald eagles, and a variety of duck species. The stream is considered “Navigable” by DEC, and is therefore considered State of Alaska property.
DEC’s spill prevention and response department was notified after 8:00 p.m. on Friday May 17th, and was on site in Seward, responding by 10:30 a.m. Saturday, the 18th.
“I saw a little sheen on the water,” said Don Fritz, an Environmental program specialist with the ADEC’s Spill Prevention and Response Department, who visited the site.
“There was a little freestanding oil in one spot,” he said. “We put a couple or three absorbent pads there.” He did not take any samples of the spill or barrel’s contents back with him to have tested, nor did he estimate the quantity spilled, but said it appeared to be used oil.
Fritz also saw the damaged 50-gallon oil drums, including one that had been sheered almost in half. He asked the property owner, John “Mack” Eads, and his brother Robert to secure the drums, and transfer the remaining fluids out of the leaky barrels. He also had them rebuild the banks of the stream where flowing water had eroded the bank, allowing it to flow along a new pathway that it had created into that section of Eadsville. They built up the bank with several feet of fill material, making it even with the rest of the creek bank which was about three feet above flood stage, Fritz said.
The weekend’s response was only a first step rather than a permanent solution, Fritz said. He also noticed numerous other oil drums and vehicles on the property. DEC will continue working with the property owners on things they would like them to do, and Fritz plans to revisit Eadsville again for follow up.
Eads, a member of the Seward Bear Creek Flood Board, said he hadn’t been back to that area yet, and had been unaware that there were any unsecured or leaky drums near the creek, although a lot of stuff floated past during last September’s flood. He suspects that they landed on the property during last fall’s flood, along with other debris. It hasn’t been possible to run their trucks in the area because they get stuck in the mud and snow, he said: “It’s like molasses out there.” But Fritz shared some photos of the spill with him.
“We’re doing the best with what we’ve got, but I really don’t think this is much of a spill, not an emergency of any kind,” he said.” He said didn’t think the drums spilled more than 50 gallons at most.
His crew will be on hand today (Thursday May 23rd) to help out with the continuing effort, Eads said. They will do some more work such as gathering up the oil-soaked leaves together and burning or properly disposing of them.
“Eadsville” is a rundown trailer park in a very active flood plain, with a few constructed homes and RV trailers on it, and a lot of other junk including dozens of rusted old oil drums, rusty cars, and other material left behind by its former denizens and perhaps others who have used it as a dumping ground. Along with Eads and his family, those listed as owners of certain parts of the land include Rosie Szymanski, Marvin Forney and R&R Construction.
Several of the homes and trailers have collapsed, or are uninhabitable, and everything is surrounded by a layer of muddy silt, in some places thick enough to swallow up your boots. Only a handful of residents currently live on the south side of the stream, and Mack has a workshop there. Most of the others left the property after last fall’s destructive flood, when the creek topped its banks and swamped their homes and surroundings.
Flooding from Salmon Creek has been the biggest problem there, and the rising stream bed, continually being filled with more glacial silt makes flooding likely to continue in the future, unless preventative measures are taken. But to make matters worse, water from the water table below the property rises up through the ground and it also gets runoff from the railroad property across the street, Eads said.
Eads has owned the property for 25 years, having purchased it from an oil man when flooding from the stream wasn’t yet an issue. Despite the fact that water is trying to reclaim the property, Eads feels it’s worth something-at least in sentimental value to him. But he believes that the borough would only be willing to pay about 10 cents on the dollar of its worth to purchase it in order to establish a flood plain conservation area there.
More info from DEC on reporting hazardous substance or oil releases:
Alaska state law requires all oil and hazardous substance releases to be reported to the DEC:Any release of oil to water must be reported as soon as the person has knowledge of the discharge. Any release of oil in excess of 55 gallons must be reported as soon as the person has knowledge of the discharge. Any release of oil in excess of 10 gallons but less than 55 gallons must be reported within 48 hours after the person has knowledge of the discharge.
Alaska state law requires all oil and hazardous substance releases to be reported to the Department of Environmental Conservation. During normal business hours call the nearest DEC response team at (907) 269-3063. Outside of normal business hours call 1-800 478-9300.
Hazardous Substance Releases:
Any release of a hazardous substance must be reported as soon as the person has knowledge of the discharge.
Oil/ Petroleum Releases
TO WATER: Any release of oil to water must be reported as soon as the person has knowledge of the discharge.
- TO LAND: Any release of oil in excess of 55 gallons must be reported as soon as the person has knowledge of the discharge. Any release of oil in excess of 10 gallons but less than 55 gallons must be reported within 48 hours after the person has knowledge of the discharge. A person in charge of a facility or operation shall maintain, and provide to the Department on a monthly basis, a written record of any discharge of oil from 1 to 10 gallons.
- TO IMPERMEABLE SECONDARY CONTAINMENT AREAS: Any release of oil in excess of 55 gallons must be reported within 48 hours after the person has knowledge of the discharge.