CALHOUN COUNTY, Mich. – It’s been nearly three years since Enbridge’s oil pipeline burst, spilling more than 840,000 gallons of oil into the environment with thousands of that going into the Kalamazoo River and other waterways.
While Enbridge continues cleanup efforts on the river, the EPA is now calling for a more aggressive cleanup approach for some of the spots where government officials say the oil has migrated.
The agency is also trying to closely monitor the oil situation following flooding and recent rains which may have stirred up remaining oil that may be on the move to other locations.
The biggest concern is that the oil that remains in the water could get past the containment system at Morrow Dam into a deeper part of the lake that is relatively uncontaminated.
Independent adviser for the EPA, Steve Hamilton, said he was checking flooding levels in the past few weeks to help calculate flooding data and assess the situation.
“That`s exactly the concern, that it`s going to cause the material to flow in particular to Morrow lake,” said Hamilton.
Environmental specialists are currently helping to test the concentrations of remaining oil in the river through a process called poling.
A specialist places a pole in the water and stirs up sediment, which is then observed for sheen and flecks of oil that comes to the surface.
Based on that testing over the past couple years, the EPA recently issued an order for more aggressive cleanup, saying, “Despite the actions since 2010…oil from the pipeline 6B discharge remains in the Kalamazoo River.”
The report goes on to say that the agency feels the oil is migrating, at one point in the assessment, using a map of Ceresco Dam as evidence of that decision.
The report states that in the Fall of 2011, heavy to medium amounts of oil were found at around 25% of the test sites.
Last fall, the EPA reported that the number of heavy to medium test sites rose to around 59% in that area of the Dam.
Because of findings like that, they recently ordered Enbridge to dredge five areas, including Ceresco Dam, the Battle Creek Dam in the Mill Pond area and the Morrow Lake Delta.
Enbridge had originally argued against dredging because of the impact on the residents who use the river and the environment.
“There are a lot of drawbacks with dredging when you look at how it impacts a natural environment,” said Jason Manshum, Enbridge spokesperson.
Manshum said as far as oil migration, Enbridge disagrees that it’s heading into areas where it is becoming a problem.
He says the areas the EPA is concerned about are natural collection areas for sediment in the river.
He also said what remains in the river are very small flecks of oil, the size of pepper flakes, which sometimes come to the surface and can become sheen.
Manshum said what remains is also safe to swim in or fish in and was cleared by the health department last summer.
He also showed us a map that indicated that test results near that final containment device near Morrow Dam showed the amount of detectable oil there was actually decreasing in concentration.
The map showed test results from Spring of 2012 and Spring of 2013.
“We are not seeing any migration of oil downstream into Morrow Lake,” said Manshum.
Regardless, Enbridge is agreeing to do the dredging now ordered by the EPA.
There is a quick turnaround on the deadline to complete the dredging project, which is December 31, 2013.
Battle Creek businessman Tim Surprise said he’s happy state and federal government officials and business leaders are working together to get the river clean again.
He uses the river regularly to train his dog to duck hunt.
However, Surprise said he’s not sure if dredging is the answer.
He said his friends live on the Hudson River in the New York area, where dredging is underway to clean up the contaminants of paper mills and other industry.
For those that live on the river, and for the wildlife, he said it’s a very disruptive process.
He feels it may be better to let nature handle what’s left in the river.
“I think it’s a bad idea,” said Surprise.