Coast Guard establishes Unified Command to respond to spill in Straits of Mackinac

MACKINAW CITY, Mich. — A Unified Command has been established in response to a mineral oil release from a utility line in the Straits of Mackinac, Monday.

The Coast Guard established the Unified Command comprised of Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, county emergency managers, local tribes, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, Environmental Protection Agency, and the responsible party to oversee the pollution response and mitigate any risks to the environment.

Initial reports from the responsible party indicate that approximately 600 gallons of product has been released. The maximum potential for the spill is more than 4,000 gallons. There have been no reported impacts to wildlife, and responders will continue to assess as work progresses.

American Transmission Company, the responsible party, has activated their Oil Spill Response Plan. Currently, there is no pressure on the affected lines and the oil is not known to be leaking from the source. ATC will remove the oil from the lines via vacuum as well as conduct overflights to monitor the spill.

The product is comprised of mineral oil, a thin and light substance. Samples of the product have been sent for laboratory analysis. Given the dilution of the product and mobility of fish, there is a low risk to fisheries and wildlife. The greatest threat is to waterfowl or shore birds that may come in contact with the product floating on the surface. Due to the inaccessibility of the shorelines from ice, there is a low-risk threat to the public since they are unable to come in contact with the oil. The dilution of the oil and distance from the bridge provide additional protection from the product.

There are two water intakes in the general vicinity, but given the dilution of the oil and the distance of the intakes from the source of the discharge, there is no significant threat to drinking water at this time.

Commercial vessel traffic has not been impacted.

“Our top priorities are to protect public health, the safety of both responders and communities in this region, and limit the environmental impacts as we contain and clean-up the spill as quickly and efficiently as possible,” said Capt. Marko Broz, the Federal On-Scene Coordinator for the response. “We are responding in cooperation with our federal, state, local and industry partners and have experience from actual spills on/in ice to draw from, as well as lessons from other areas around the country and around the world.”

The Coast Guard received notification of the potential spill from the American Transmission Company on Monday evening. An MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew was deployed to conduct an overflight of the area. Additionally, response teams from Coast Guard Sector Sault Sainte Marie were dispatched to investigate. The Coast Guard does not approve or regulate pipelines or pipeline response plans. Those are approved and regulated by the Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA).

The Coast Guard’s role is to oversee the response efforts and ensure that the responsible party is responding in accordance with their established plan.

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