Response to oil spill in the Shuyak Strait continues

Around 3,000 gallons of oil were released into the Shuyak Strait after this building collapsed. (Photo Courtesy of the Coast Guard)

At the end of February, 3,000 gallons of oil spilled into the Shuyak Strait about 50 miles north of the City of Kodiak. The oil was in a building that collapsed because of a severe windstorm. Since then, a response has been underway to contain the oil, clean it up and prevent future spills.

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When asked how long it’s going to take to clean up the oil spill in the Shuyak Strait, the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation’s on-scene coordinator Geoff Merrell says longer than weeks, but less than years.

“Can’t mark a date on the calendar says we’re going to be done by here,” Merrell said.

The spill happened when a building on Shuyak Island collapsed and a fuel bladder in it, filled with about 3,000 gallons of bunker C oil, released its contents into Shuyak Strait. The oil’s been contained, but clean-up efforts have been impeded because the wreckage of the building is blocking the initial spill site. A crane has been ordered to the area to help remove the structures remains.

Merrell says it may seem like the clean-up is taking a long time, but he says the operation is complicated.

“It can be a delicate tricky thing on a removing the oil without destroying everything else there in the process which really doesn’t serve any purpose at all,” Merrell said.

The building that collapsed was a part of a bigger compound made up of structures of all shapes and sizes. Some of which date back to before World War II. The site’s been used for all sorts of things like a steamship fuel depot, a fish processing plant, and a float plane terminal. Merrell says the site doesn’t seem to be used for much at the moment and currently there’s an investigation into who all owns the property.

Merrell says the spilled oil isn’t the only problem facing the area. There’s another estimated 3,000 gallons of fuel, oil and other lubricants stored in buildings near the water that could collapse in the future. Clean-up personnel are carefully making their way through the old structures looking for these petroleum products.

“So that they don’t become either an additional pollutant or a pollutant down the road where we just be out to the same sight in the future cleaning up something that we left behind this time,” Merrell said.

So far, there hasn’t been any signs the oil spill has affected local wildlife. Merrell says his team is keeping an eye out for oiled animals, especially those that call the strait their home.

“Aquatic mammals specifically sea otters, sea lions and river otters,” Merrell said. “And then very shortly we’re are going to start the annual bird migration so there will be an increasing presence of waterfowl in the area, which we are concerned about.”

Recently, an in-depth environmental and structural analysis was done at the spill site.

According to a recent Coast Guard press release, the study will help personnel safely conduct further clean-up efforts. Around 240 bags of oily waste has been removed from the Shuyak Strait so far.