TUNTUTULIAK, Alaska — A Unified Command has been formed to respond to the potential release of diesel fuel and lube oils from an excavator which became submerged in the Quinac River near Tuntutuliak, March 24.
Coast Guard Sector Anchorage and Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation are coordinating clean-up efforts with the City of Tuntutuliak and the owner of the excavator.
Coast Guard Sector Anchorage received a report of the submerged excavator March 29 and dispatched pollution responders to assess the site and direct clean up efforts.
Given the remote location, safety considerations and restraints, and the current environmental conditions, the Unified Command has concluded that removal will take place once the river ice breakup is completed and the barge necessary for removal can safely navigate the river.
“Cleanup efforts are ongoing and we hope to mitigate the effects of the spill and remove the excavator as soon as safely possible,” said Lt. Todd Bagetis, Sector Anchorage response. “Sector Anchorage will continue to work closely alongside the Unified Command and federal and state partners to monitor the situation and address local concerns.”
The Unified Command is working with state and federal entities to assess any risk to the village of Tuntutuliak’s drinking water and subsistence fisheries near the affected area.
The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation Drinking Water Program is encouraging Tuntuliak residents to use the public water system, as it is regularly monitored for all regulated contaminant including those stemming from oil products. As a result of the incident, Drinking Water Program Manager, Cindy Christian, is advising caution for those choosing to use their traditional source of water.
“If people do choose to use their traditional sources, they should collect water from upstream of the excavator,” said Christian. “All water from the river that is used for drinking, cooking and brushing teeth should be boiled for 2 minutes before use.”
Jeanette Alas with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game stated the Department is actively engaged in the response,
“ADF&G will work within the Incident Management Team to issue a Title 16 Fish Habitat Permit to the owner to remove the bulldozer in a manner that minimizes impacts to fish and their habitat,” said Alas.
The Alaska Department of Fish and game is expecting minimal impacts to fisheries and fish habitat due to the amount and types of contaminants present.
The excavator is reported to have a maximum capacity of 40 gallons of diesel, 40 gallons of hydraulic oil and 5 gallons of lubricating oil on board. At this time it is unknown how much product has discharged from the excavator. The excavator’s owner is taking the necessary actions to mitigate the pollution threat until removal can place in a safe manner.
There are no reports of injuries or confirmed reports of impacts to wildlife at this time.