Crews mop up Baranof oil spill

Oil leaked from abandoned tank in Tongass National Forest

Posted: Monday, November 27, 2000

A spill from an abandoned fuel tank that could be more than 100 years old does not appear to be threatening wildlife in an environmentally-sensitive area on Baranof Island.

Cleanup crews filled about 13 large black garbage bags with tar balls and other oil-soaked debris over the weekend from a spill estimated at between 500 and 1,000 gallons, said Mark Burger, an environmental specialist with the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

"We pretty much have the shoreline cleaned up," Burger said this morning. "We still have a little bit of cleaning to do on branches that bend over the water at high tide."

The oil leaked from a steel storage tank at an abandoned salmon saltery that operated from the 1880s to 1930s in New Port Walter.

The spill, on federal property in the Tongass National Forest, was discovered on Nov. 18 by workers at a nearby research center run by the National Marine Fisheries Service. Bad weather prevented cleanup crews from getting to the site earlier.

The DEC, the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Forest Service, Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the Alaska Raptor Center are working together to monitor and mitigate damage to wildlife.

"We've counted hundreds of birds, five seals, a sea otter and a mink, and absolutely none of these animals seem stressed or acted abnormally," Burger said.

A few cormorants were reported to have some oil on their feathers soon after the spill.

"Cormorants being pitch black, it's hard to say," Burger added. "There's no discoloration of any white birds such as seagulls."

Absorbent boom was placed around saltwater pens containing juvenile salmon at the Little Port Walter National Marine Fisheries Service Research Station.

Jim Franzel, the district ranger from the Forest Service office in Sitka, is in the field and could not be reached for comment.

"We've had no reports yet for the need for further action, but we'll know more once we hear from Jim," said Mike Webber, Forest Service public affairs officer.

The aging storage tank, 16 feet tall by 12 feet wide, will be cleaned, sealed and eventually dismantled. About 100 gallons of fuel mixed with water remain in the tank.

"That tank had bolts; today they're all welded," Burger pointed out. "This one didn't even have rivets, so it even missed the riveting stage of history."

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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