Gov. Jennifer Granholm blasts effort to clean up Kalamazoo River
Written by Kalamazoo Gazette   
Thursday, 29 July 2010 07:13
Gov. Jennifer Granholm on Wednesday took both the company responsible for the massive oil spill spreading on the Kalamazoo River — as well as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency — to task for what she called their “wholly inadequate” response to the spill so far.

“I’m very angered,” Granholm said in a teleconference with reporters. “We need for the responsible party (Enbridge Inc.) and the EPA to step up. The situation is very serious.”

But U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, said late Wednesday that the cleanup effort appeared to be going well.

“They seem to be getting everything,” Upton said. “The system seems to be working at the moment.”

The EPA is now saying that the amount of oil spilled from a section of 30-inch underground pipe near Marshall on Monday is close to 1 million gallons, higher than the company’s earlier estimate of 840,000 gallons.

Late Wednesday, the EPA announced that it would be taking over the cleanup. In that role, allowed under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, the EPA will coordinate the response activities carried out by federal and state officials and will direct the response efforts carried out by Enbridge.

The move was prompted primarily because of the agency’s dissatisfaction with Enbridge’s efforts so far, according to an aide to U.S. Rep. Mark Schauer, D-Battle Creek.

“EPA and other federal and state agencies mobilized immediately in response to this spill and have taken a series of steps to minimize the damage this spill does to the river and surrounding communities,” said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson in a statement.

“This is a serious spill that has the potential to damage a vital waterway and threatens public health. Staff from EPA’s regional and headquarters office are on the scene and ensuring the leaked oil is contained and cleaned up as quickly and effectively as possible.”

Tom Sands, deputy state director for emergency management and homeland security, said that on Wednesday he saw a “light sheen” of oil past the Morrow Dam in Comstock Township, a structure that company and EPA officials had hoped would be the last stand in the effort to halt the oil’s downstream progress.

But Ed Sackley, Upton’s district representative, said he received different information during a briefing given by officials from Enbridge and the EPA at 4 p.m. Wednesday in Marshall.

“The report by the EPA and Enbridge was that there was no sheen beyond Morrow Dam,” said Sackley, who briefed Upton.

Booms were in place on the eastern end of the lake and closer to Morrow Dam, said Sackley, speaking from Morrow Lake Wednesday night. Sackley said that he could see no oil in the lake.

Late Wednesday, Kalamazoo County emergency management officials were preparing to place booms downstream of the dam as a “second line of defense,” said Lt. Paul Baker, director of the agency.

The amount of oil in the water upstream at Augusta had greatly dissipated Wednesday between late morning and the evening, Sackley said.

“It appears that everything’s working,” he said.

Sackley questioned whether the sheen the governor’s aide said he spotted was from the oil spill.

“It could be something from a fishing boat, a jet ski — God knows what’s floating in the river,” Sackley said.

Of the Sands’ statement that it appeared oil had breached the dam, Upton said flatly: “There’s no truth to that.”

“They’re on the lake right now and there’s nothing there,” Upton said.

Mark Durno, the EPA’s deputy incident commander for the site, said that the sheen could have been from “something organic.”

If any oil does make its way past the dam it enters the Kalamazoo River Superfund site, which stretches from the dam 80 miles downstream to Saugatuck on Lake Michigan. The stretch, a Superfund site for 20 years, contains harmful polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, in several spots.

EPA officials familiar with the Superfund site are on site advising personnel.
In addition to the oil containment booms on Morrow Lake, a reservoir created by the dam, booms are placed at 16 other sites on the river; four on Talmadge Creek, a tributary of the river where the spill originated, and 12 sites downstream.

The EPA plans to set up five additional boom sites today, mainly in the middle of the affected portion of the river near Battle Creek.

When asked what he thought of Granholm’s comments, Durno said: “She should be mad. She has the same concerns that we have. We will grow the response until there’s not need to grow the response anymore.”

Durno said he was optimistic that “the bulk” of oil currently in the river could be removed “in a matter of days.” Long-term cleanup of the area, however, will take months, he said.

Enbridge officials said at a press conference earlier Wednesday that it was going to double its workforce of company employees and contract workers who are working around the clock on containing the spill.

Citing “scheduling conflicts,” the company postponed a 7 p.m. press conference Wednesday where EPA and company officials were to provide information on the movement of the spill and how many more resources had been deployed during the day.

The press conference was postponed after Granholm made her statements.

Durno called this one of the largest oil spills in the history of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Region V. The region includes Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, Wisconsin and Minnesota.

“For an inland spill, it’s huge,” he said.

Members from the U.S. Coast Guard’s Atlantic Strike Team — one of three highly trained units that deploy to environmental hazardous situations — arrived Wednesday with specialized testing equipment to assist the EPA, which has been given a $2 million ceiling to spend on supplies and equipment, EPA spokesman Mick Hans said.

“I expect that number to climb soon,” he said. “We’ve been given the go-ahead from Washington.”

Enbridge will be responsible for all the costs associated with containment and cleanup.
Patrick Daniel, the company’s president and chief executive officer, said Wednesday that Enbridge hoped to re-open the pipeline “within a few days.”

But the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration later issued a Corrective Action Order directing Enbridge not to reopen the pipeline until a comprehensive safety assessment has been conducted.

The cause of the spill is still not known and is under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board.

Meanwhile, water samples from the river are being collected in Kalamazoo and Allegan counties to see if any “dissolved contaminants” from the oil have already spread beyond the Morrow Dam.

The results of the microscopic analysis could be available today and will determine if state and county officials will extend a “no-contact” order for the river, said Mary Dettloff, spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment.

The contaminants, which are invisible and an offshoot of the hydrocarbons in the oil breaking down, can pose a health hazard. Separately, Dettloff said levels of benzene, a cancer-causing chemical, have begun to dissipate.

Also Wednesday, the Michigan Department of Agriculture issued an advisory against using the Kalamazoo River for irrigation and for livestock.

Jennifer Holton, a spokeswoman for MDA, said the advisory was expanded “out of an abundance of caution to assure the safety and health of farmers, livestock producers and Michigan citizens.”

Lyndon Kelley, area irrigation specialist with the Michigan State University Cooperative Extension Service, said the notice is “an advisory, not a ban.”

Kelley added that recent rains and predictions for more precipitation may give growers a five- to seven-day window needed for officials to better assess any risk associated with using water from the Kalamazoo River.
 
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