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Bad weather causes EPA to halt oil clean up in Calhoun

The Environmental Protection Agency has temporarily ceased clean-up operations of last year’s massive oil spill since last week because of storms and high flood levels on the Kalamazoo River.

Mark Durno, deputy incident commander for the EPA response in Calhoun, tells Michigan Messenger the decision to stop clean up work was made because the river is nearly as high as it was last July 25 when Enbridge Energy Partners’ Lakehead Pipeline 6B ruptured, spewing an estimated one million gallons of Cold Lake crude oil into the Talmadge Creek and the Kalamazoo River. The release of so much oil was made worse at the time because the river was at what EPA officials had estimated were flood levels of 25 year to 50 year depths.

“Here’s the scoop: the water levels are nearly as high as they were at the time of the release last July,” Durno said in a phone interview Tuesday evening. “All operations are shut down…As soon as the water starts receding we will get back to it.”

Durno said the shore and sediment assessments were ongoing at the time the agency stopped work on the river. They had planned to complete those studies by the end of May.

The storms and flood levels have also destroyed some collection points, Durno said, and shaken loose more oil into the river.

“We did lose a couple of our containment structures,” he said. As a result, officials are uncertain how much sheen — or free floating oil — has been released by the flooding. Many spill workers told Michigan Messenger last year that oil was being deliberately left on islands and covered up with soil to appear cleaned up. Durno said when the river is at its normal depth, officials had developed a way to measure, roughly, the amount of oil that was being collected. With the lose of collection points, he said, that rough estimate process is no good.

He did report, however, that workers did not report any more visual sheen than they had been seeing before the rounds of severe weather than have hammered southwest Michigan.

He says as soon as the water starts receding, workers will be on the river doing safety assessments, including determining where and which fallen trees may need to be removed. Officials will then develop a safety plan before returning to shore and sediment assessments.

Storms and high flood levels were also the cause of a heavy oil smell at Ceresco Dam earlier in May.

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