Coast Guard, partners suspending response in Straits of Mackinac due to weather

Straits of Mackinac during a Coast Guard Air Station Traverse City MH-60 overflight on April 4, 2018. The Coast Guard conducted overflights of areas of interest for a mineral oil spill from a submerged utility line to monitor the extent of the spill and identify any product on the surface. (U.S. Coast Guard photo).

Straits of Mackinac during a Coast Guard Air Station Traverse City MH-60 overflight. (U.S. Coast Guard photo).

MACKINAW CITY, Mich. – The unified command has announced that due to a high-wind and hazardous weather forecast, air and boat operations, overseen by the unified command, will be suspended from Friday morning until Monday morning.

Responders will work shoreside and continue mineral oil extraction operations and wildlife surveillance.

“Our top priorities remain to protect public health, and ensure the safety of the responders and the communities in this region,” said Coast Guard Cmdr. Shaun Edwards, the Incident Commander for the response. “The anticipated high winds and hazardous weather are serious enough to pose a threat to our responders; however, the unified command is committed to extracting the oil from the cables as quickly as possible and will diligently monitor shore-side cleanup operations throughout the weekend.”

The American Transmission Company is planning to deploy thermal scanning technology and a Remotely Operated Underwater Vehicle (ROV) to better assess the damage to the affected utility lines while efforts continue to extract the remaining product from two cables. These operations will likely occur next week, due to the hazardous weather forecasted for this weekend.

A commercial tug and barge are being outfitted to deploy the ROV equipment. Information from the thermal scans, as well as from the ROV, will help develop the unified command’s salvage operations plan for the affected utility cables.

American Transmission Company, a transmission-only electric utility, contracted North Shore Environmental to remove product from the cables. From a shore-side facility, North Shore Environmental has been vacuuming the mineral oil from a less than one inch diameter void in the cables that stretch three and a half miles across the Straits of Mackinac.

To date, approximately 300 gallons of the mineral oil have been extracted from the utility cables. Work to remove product from the second damaged cable commenced Tuesday.

Wildlife biologists and specialists from the United States Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA-APHIS) Wildlife Services program, will work from shore to identify any signs of pollution or impacted fish and wildlife. The unified command has investigated reports from the public of sightings of pollution. Pollution responders and wildlife specialists have investigated the reports and determine that there are no signs of pollution or impact to the environment or wildlife.

The personnel surveying the area are trained to identify impacts on wildlife. Wildlife specialists and biologists have viewed a constant presence of waterfowl. Long-tailed ducks, Common Mergansers, Red Breasted Mergansers, Redhead, Bufflehead, Mallards, Lesser Scaup, Canada Geese, Herring Gulls, Goldeneye, and raptors, including eagles, a Sharp-shinned Hawk and a Peregrine Falcon, have been observed over the course of the response from areas near Mackinac, Round and Boise Blanc Islands as well as on the shoreline near Mackinaw City, and west of the Mackinac Bridge. Personnel on scene have observed no abnormal bird behavior in the affected area.

The damage to the American Transmission utility cables may have been caused by vessel activity. This vessel activity is under investigation by the Coast Guard. All entities responsible for active utility lines that cross the Straits were notified by the unified command to ensure that all steps are taken to assess and mitigate any further damage to infrastructure or risk to public health and the environment. The utilities are continuing to conduct assessments of their infrastructure.

The unified command encourages the public to report any sightings of pollution or affected wildlife.

To report affected wildlife or animals acting abnormally, please call the USDA at (517)-336-1928.

To report any oil sheen or pollution, please call the National Response Center at 1-800-424-8802.

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