Crews mop up Tee Harbor spill

Boats less affected by oil than first thought

Posted: Friday, June 29, 2001

The cleanup continues today of the 500-gallon spill of No. 2 diesel fuel on the south side of Tee Harbor.

"Every time you walk on the dock or move a boat, a little oil goes back into the water. But we are doing what we can with sorbent materials, and the family that owns (Donohue's Marina) is working right along with us," said Rick Withrow of Alsek Freight Inc. The company has been hired by Donohue's owner Elizabeth Haffner to conduct the cleanup.

A fuel hose connection at Donohue's Marina ruptured about 11 p.m. Wednesday, the state said.

A private contractor can mop up a spill for less than the state Department of Environmental Conservation can, Withrow said.

"If you opened the Pollution Fund, they'd sent out an army at $30 an hour and it might cost $10,000 or $20,000. My price will be considerably less."

Withrow expected to finish the cleanup by Saturday afternoon. Then the U.S. Coast Guard's Marine Safety Office will inspect the job and make any recommendations.

There is a big difference between the impact of a crude oil spill, as with the Exxon Valdez, and the impact of a diesel spill, said assistant area habitat biologist Catherine Pohl of the state Department of Fish and Game.

Crude oil lingers on and under rocks for years, leaching contaminants into the water. Diesel fuel has a more instant effect, Pohl said.

"Diesel oil toxicity is very severe at first because the molecules are smaller. It doesn't leave as much lingering on the beaches, but it is more immediately deadly," Pohl said. "The youngest life stages are among the most sensitive to spills. Eggs are really, really sensitive and larval forms are susceptible, too."

Hatched herring, now floating about like plankton, may be harmed by the spill, Pohl fears.

Other aspects of the ecosystem also may suffer. A river otter lives at the marina, Pohl said, and in winter sea ducks eat shellfish in the inner tidal area that received the most oil. She also is concerned about a clamming beach on the north side.

Marine ecologist Tom Shirley, who lives at Tee Harbor, and Fish and Game biologist Craig Farrington reported herring spawning on the north side of Tee Harbor in early June.

"We measured three-quarters of a nautical mile of spawn on June 7," Farrington said. "For Tee Harbor, that's the biggest spawn in 20 years. We thought perhaps that showed a recovery of Lynn Canal herring stocks."

Although initial DEC assessment on Thursday indicated that 75 to 100 boats moored at the Tee Harbor dock might need scrubbing, further investigation says that may not be true, said Bob Mattson of DEC.

"We look at the worst scenario first. But now we see that the boats appear not to have been oiled very significantly," Mattson said.

A separate spill hit Auke Bay on Tuesday morning, with about 400 gallons of diesel going into the water.

In the wake of two significant fuel spills, Mattson had a request: "I would ask all fuel dock owners to take some time today to inspect their entire fuel system, connections and hoses for any problems or deterioration. I would think prudent owners would already have done that after the Auke Bay spill, but I want to remind people," he said.

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