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Diesel Spills into the Lochsa

by Eric Barker
Lewiston Tribune, November 14, 2003

6,300 gallons of fuel is seeping under the highway and into the river

LOWELL -- Diesel fuel is leaking into the Lochsa River following an accident on U.S. Highway 12 Thursday.

About 6,300 gallons of diesel spilled into the barrow pit and is seeping under the highway and into the river.

The pup trailer of a fuel tanker truck tipped over and broke open at about 6 a.m. about 10 miles east of Lowell, near the U.S. Forest Service Knife Edge River Access Site.

A regional hazardous materials crew from Lewiston worked all day to contain the spill and soak the diesel from the river. Clean-up crews will continue work today and are expected to remove fuel-soaked soil from both sides of the highway with an excavator.

Officials could not say how much fuel made it into the Lochsa, which is designated a wild and scenic river. But officials said fish and drinking water are not threatened.

"We have determined there is not enough in the water to interfere with fisheries," said Incident Commander Lt. Lonnie R. Richardson of the Idaho State Police, based at Lewiston. "Certainly (there's) not enough in the water to contaminate any water source."

A slight sheen could be seen as far as five miles downriver from the accident, he said. But officials believe most of the fuel is being contained and soaked up by absorbent booms deployed within a few hours of the accident.

"We've got pretty good containment on it," said Hudson Mann, waste manager for the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality at Lewiston.

Mann said he consulted with officials from the Idaho Department of Fish and Game and the Nez Perce Tribe who believed fish would not be immediately threatened by the spill.

The river is home to threatened steelhead and bull trout as well as chinook salmon and westslope cutthroat trout. The river also provides habitat to several wildlife species such as otter and osprey.

A bald eagle perched in a tree across the river from the spill watched as the haz-mat team worked Thursday afternoon.

It was not the first fuel spill along the highway, which is often busy with commercial truck traffic.

A fuel truck tipped over and spilled about 10,000 gallons of diesel fuel in January 2002. It is estimated at least 6,000 of those gallons flowed directly into the river.

That spill did not kill fish, but did cause towns downstream to temporarily suspend pumping water from the river.

"We had a lot more product in the river last time and we did not have any damage to fish," said Mann.

According to Lt. Richardson, the driver of the fuel truck, John Jones, 60, of Missoula, was westbound and said he swerved when an eastbound truck crossed the center line.

Jones was not injured. He successfully returned his truck to the highway, but the pup trailer in tow tipped over and burst open.

Jones was delivering fuel to Grangeville for Tremper Distributing of Missoula, according to company owner Hal Tremper, who was at the scene of the spill.

Tremper said Jones told him he had to swerve into the ditch to avoid a head-on collision.

Jones has at least 30 years experience, Tremper said, and has worked for Tremper for about 15 years.

The eastbound truck did not stop.

Terry Jackson of Clearwater Environmental Products at Kamiah arrived at the spill by 7:30 a.m. with two trailers full of hazardous materials clean-up equipment.

Jackson stores enough of the absorbent booms to soak up about 20,000 gallons of fuel. He said his equipment has been deployed about every other year.

Maxim of Missoula, another environmental cleanup business, will take over today.

Truck volume is heavy on the highway. Richardson called truck accidents routine, adding two other accidents involving large trucks occurred on the highway Thursday.

The spill is sure to stoke an ongoing debate over hazardous materials being transported along the Lochsa.

"The relative occurrence of these things is a little bit troubling," said Ed Schriever, regional fisheries manager for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game at Lewiston. "The last time I said if this were more serious than diesel, we would have catastrophic resource effect."

Related Pages:
Crews Try to Contain Diesel Spill, by Dan Hansen & Hannelore Sudermann, Spokesman Review, 1/8/2

Eric Barker
Diesel Spills into the Lochsa
Lewiston Tribune, November 14, 2003

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