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Willard Bay cleanup to keep park closed through Memorial Day

Published April 16, 2013 9:42 am

Willard Bay • Popular boating park will remain partially closed until June.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Willard Bay State Park • Chevron officials expect to complete cleanup operations at a diesel spill near the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge by June 1, but whether a state park popular with boaters and beachgoers will open by then depends on the results of environmental testing by state officials.

On Wednesday, the Utah Department of Environmental Quality sunk 10 monitoring wells around the wetlands and beach at Willard Bay State Park near Brigham City, in addition to an 11th well up-gradient from the affected area that is hoped to produce baseline data, according to Walt Baker, who directs the state Division of Water Quality.

On March 18, an estimated 21,000 gallons of diesel leaked from a 74-inch-long seam that opened along an 8-inch pipeline, built in 1950, that runs from Salt Lake City refineries to Spokane, Wash. Most of the fuel has been removed from a wetland adjacent to I-15's southbound lanes, but weeks of work remain that could cost Chevron as much as $500,000 a day. More than 160 workers were on the site in two shifts in recent days.

"The math on this is not very precise. There is 2,700 gallons that's unaccounted for. It's in the water, it's in the soils," Baker told reporters touring the park Wednesday. The event was the first time the state allowed news media access to the park's North Marina, which will remain shuttered to the public through at least the Memorial Day weekend, costing the state's park system much-needed revenue. The South Marina remains open for camping, boating and fishing.

"We apologize for the impact to the public and to the park," Chevron incident commander Patrick Green.

Tests have shown diesel has contaminated groundwater and has reached Willard Bay, but concentrations are diminishing each day, according to DEQ officials.

Chevron is conducting the cleanup with oversight from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Within two weeks the oil company replaced 100 feet of pipe, reactivated the pipeline, and sent the ruptured segment to a lab to determine why and how it failed.

In the hours following the break, diesel crept into a wetland filled with invasive phragmites, a tall water-loving stalked plant, and into a ditch draining runoff from the freeway to Willard Bay Reservoir, a diked freshwater reservoir on the Great Salt Lake just a few hundred yards to the west. Three beaver dams in and near the culvert under the park access road slowed the fuel's progress, making the cleanup a little easier, according to Green.

Crews have removed and replaced contaminated soil from the wetland, leaving it free of phragmites, and pulled fuel-soaked dams and woody debris from the drainage ditch. Crews placed pom-poms — made of a special absorbent material that repels water — along the tiny stream to mop up hydrocarbons. Booms also line the lake just off the beach for several hundred yards to the north of where the stream empties into the bay.

The smell permeating the area Wednesday was not diesel, but more likely decaying organic material from the "beaver mud" disturbed by the cleanup, Green said. Six beavers were rescued from the spill site, but a pair of wood ducks died along with numerous small fish and some bull frogs.

bmaffly@sltrib.com