Response wraps up on Shuyak Island oil spill

Photo of site on Shuyak Island. (Photo courtesy of Alaska Chadux)

A $9 million oil spill cleanup is winding down on the southern end of Shuyak Island in an area that’s critical habitat for marine mammals like sea otters and Steller sea lions.

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The spill happened in late February, when a dock at Port William collapsed, causing a building and a container filled with fuel to fall into the water, releasing an estimated 3,000 gallons of oil.

Commander James Binniker of the U.S. Coast Guard is helping lead the cleanup. He says spill responders have met the Coast Guard’s goals for the response.

“We wanted no oil left on the rocky surfaces or the pilings that we could access where oil would come off when rubbed, so we don’t want anything that’s gonna oil a bird or any marine mammal or any wildlife that gets on that beach,” Binniker said.

Besides using booms to contain the oil, responders also cleaned up debris from the fallen structures and pressure washed harder surfaces. The unified response includes contractor Alaska Chadux and the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation.

According to the latest DEC situation report, responders have collected more than 1,800 bags of oiled absorbent material so far including from heavy oil called Bunker C fuel, in addition to oils like diesel and gasoline.

Binniker says there is still some oil in the remaining two structures on the water and the person currently managing the site agreed to allow the responders to remove a portion of it.

But Binniker says at this point it’s out of the Coast Guard’s hands.

“The remaining pier structures are not unlike many throughout Alaska, and it’s not our determination at this point that it poses an imminent threat of collapse and pollution,” Binniker said.

While the response is winding down, Geoff Merrell of DEC says the state is also going to check out tanks held in a structure further up the property.

DEC has an open, ongoing case related to the tanks. According to the Coast Guard, in 2013 one of the tanks was shot, and that led to a leak of oil onto the property.

Merrell says that’s what they’re going to look into as part of their next steps.

“What we’re going to investigate is the impact of that leak on the ground and soils and potential contamination,” Merrell said.

Chugiak resident Mark Krall says he’s the effective manager of the land. He explains he took on that role in 2012 in light of the poor health of the owner, who he says is a friend of his, and he says he was running a lodge in the area until last year.

Krall says vandalism led to the leak on the property, and he flew to Shuyak Island to take care of it.

“There was a slight sheen, but not much of it evidently got to the water when the vandals shot it,” Krall said. “Actually, most of it absorbed into the soil on the hill above the water.”

Krall says, at the time, it was either clean up the land or else the property owner would deal with more expensive fines from the Coast Guard.

He says he shipped in oil response equipment and footed the bill himself, which he says ended being a little more than $40,000, a cost which he says contributed to him closing the lodge.

Krall says he stored the remainder of the oil from the tank in a container in one of the buildings at the docks. That’s where it stayed until strong winds knocked it into the water in February, causing the most recent spill.

Krall was employing a caretaker for the property at the time. He says the caretaker emailed him the day the container carrying the fuel fell into the water.

Krall was unclear about what he intends to do with oil still stored there. He also indicated he was trying to end his involvement with the property. Krall did not respond to further emails seeking clarification by deadline.

A representative from DEC says that the state is still investigating who might be the responsible party.