Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Most of the work to clean up last month’s large oil spill in the North Raccoon River is complete near Jefferson, but long absorbent tubes will remain on the river’s surface for weeks to contain any further contamination, environmental officials say.

It took a little more than two weeks for workers to remove about 800 gallons of oil, about 4,000 gallons of oily water and tons of dirt and sand from the river and nearby areas in a roughly 15-mile stretch from the west side of Jefferson.

“This has been the most labor-intensive spill I’ve ever seen,” said Alison Manz, an Iowa Department of Natural Resources officer of 14 years who oversaw the cleanup. “It’s lasted the longest. It will be ongoing, and we will be monitoring the river up through spring.”

The spill was reported on Sept. 13 when a passerby saw oil in the river. Investigators eventually tracked the oil to an above-ground tank at Krieger Greenhouses on the west side of Jefferson.

Manz said one of the greenhouse owners discovered that oil was leaking from an open valve on the tank the morning of Sept. 13 but failed to report it to state officials as required by law, which says such a spill must be reported within six hours after it’s discovered. The Greene County Sheriff’s office reported it to state officials several hours later.

“If (Krieger Greenhouses) would have notified us right away, we might have avoided a lot of this,” Manz said of the cleanup.

Ernie Krieger, one of the business’ owners, has speculated that a animal nudged the valve open. He initially told the Daily Times Herald that the spill was “not a big deal” but later conceded that the cleanup would be laborious.

Krieger Greenhouses paid for less than a week’s worth of cleanup before its insurance company declined to pay for further work, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and other federal departments took over the cleanup thereafter. They used federal money earmarked for oil spills to finish the job.

David Bryan, an EPA spokesman, has not disclosed how much his agency has spent. Krieger Greenhouses might be asked to reimburse the expenses, he said.

Krieger might also face fines of up to $10,000 from the state Department of Natural Resources and unspecified fines from the EPA.

Workers left the site on Friday with the absorbent tubes in place. Manz said her department will do occasional spot checks on the river to be sure no more oil goes downstream. The tubes are placed near a ravine where the oil entered the river and at two other spots downstream.

No fish kill has been reported, but two birds were found with oil on them.

“I think the cleanup went really well,” Manz said. “There was a lot of people involved. It’s the largest one anybody in my office has ever responded to.”