Oil spill prompts closure of three McKenzie River boat ramps

From the Register Guard:

SPRINGFIELD — Authorities on Wednesday shut down three boat ramps along the McKenzie River and warned the public to avoid the water while crews assess and clean up a 200-gallon hydraulic oil spill about 800 feet downstream from the Eugene ­Water & Electric Board’s drinking ­water intake at Hayden Bridge.

State Department of Environmental Quality officials said people should stay away from a seven-mile stretch of the river between Hayden Bridge in northeast Springfield and Armitage Park west of Interstate 5, just outside the Eugene city limits.

Authorities — who said the oil flowed into the river from the nearby International Paper mill — were working Wednesday to assess the shoreline for any wildlife impacts.

Meanwhile, Lane County officials announced the temporary but indefinite closure of the Hayden Bridge, Bellinger and Hendricks Bridge boat ramps. “The presence of booms in the river and other obstructions related to the cleanup effort pose a safety hazard for boats,” Lane County sheriff’s search and rescue coordinator Jason Bowman said.

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EWEB relies on the McKenzie River as Eugene’s water source. An agency spokesman said officials have determined there is no threat to the area’s drinking water.

DEQ officials said an initial ­report indicated that oil had leaked into the river after a break occurred in an International Paper hydraulic line on Monday night.

International Paper officials said in a statement released Wednesday that they “have a vested interest in ­operating our mill safely and in an environmentally responsible manner” and are working closely with state ­investigators “to ensure this (type of) incident does not happen again.”

International Paper produces ­linerboard — a material used to line cardboard boxes — at its mill off 42nd Street in Springfield, south of the spill area.

A sheen on the river near Hayden Bridge was reported Tuesday. ­Officials who responded to the scene at first thought the source might have been a submerged vehicle but later learned about the hydraulic line break, DEQ spokeswoman Katherine Benenati said. Hydraulic oil from the mill is supposed to flow through a wastewater line to a treatment plant on the mill property, but the oil that ended up in the river went into a clean water line that discharges into the river, Benenati said.

International Paper shut off the line on Tuesday after being informed of the spill. The company estimated that 200 gallons of oil had entered the river, Benenati said.

“It’s hard to gauge,” she said. “Even a small amount of oil can create a really big sheen.”

Initial reports indicated that a number of dead fish were seen in the spill area, but Benenati said Wednesday that none of the ­officials involved in investigating and ­cleaning up had seen any.

She added that the DEQ is ­focused on investigating and ­cleaning the spill, and that any ­potential enforcement action would be considered at a later time.

Cleanup crews on Wednesday ­deployed EWEB equipment designed to contain and absorb the oil. EWEB spokesman Joe Harwood said his agency maintains a series of equipment trailers throughout the McKenzie watershed to be ready for spills or other emergencies that could threaten Eugene’s drinking water supply.

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One Response to Oil spill prompts closure of three McKenzie River boat ramps

  1. Steve Vaughn says:

    If the International Paper plant really wanted to ensure this type of spill does not impact the river again, they should start using bio-based hydraulic fluid. It is readily available, recyclable, and relatively non-toxic in the environment. In some states it is mandated in systems where spills can be anticipated to impact water bodies. Granted increased cost is a consideration, but is their desire to operate in an environmentally responsible manner genuine?

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