Residents press Chevron for answers
Stuffed animal held tightly in her left arm, 9-year-old Stella Cunningham asked a Chevron official how long the stretch of Red Butte Creek behind her Harvard Avenue home will smell.
"When can we swim in it again?" she added.
The little girl's questions were two of many hurled at Chevron Vice President Bryan Tucker during a two-hour community meeting Monday night about the oil spill that fouled Salt Lake City's Red Butte Creek, Liberty Park pond and, to a lesser degree, the Jordan River.
A few speakers at the Clayton Middle School gathering were combative. Most sought details: Where will crews clean up first? How long will it take? How do you file claims for overnight hotel stays if the stench forces you from your home? A couple of residents even praised Chevron's response to the accident.
"All day [Sunday], we had a civil engineer from Chevron, volunteering his time, in our backyard, rubbing oil off rocks and concrete,' said Harvard Avenue resident Ronalee Baker. "With the tremendous job you have now and ahead of you, I want to compliment you."
"I'll take that back [to the workers]," Chevron's Tucker responded. "They'll feel good."
Not all of the questions were so easy. He told the Cunningham girl, for instance, that he had no definite answer.
"As the days get warmer, the oil that is there is going to evaporate," Tucker said. "The smell is probably going to get worse before it gets better."
Another resident mockingly asked how long the cleanup would take -- months, years, decades, centuries.
"Months, not years, not centuries," Tucker responded.
Rebecca England, who lives on Yale Avenue, returned home late Saturday after hiking in Zion National Park and immediately got a headache.
"I have kids and I don't know whether I can let them go jump on the trampoline [in my yard]," she said.
England was not satisfied with Chevron's presentation, which drew about 250 residents.
"It amazes me that they've dealt with this enough times, that they didn't have better answers than this. I can't believe they don't have a plan."
Robert Penrose, who lives east of Liberty Park and also reported suffering headaches from the fumes, advised Tucker that Chevron could face difficulty cleaning stretches of Red Butte Creek that flow underground in drainage pipes.
"That will be a challenging area to clean up," Tucker conceded. "It's my expectation that will be one of the tougher challenges we have."
Chevron spokesman Mark Sullivan noted that the contaminated corridor was subdivided into 18 distinct areas Monday and that appropriate cleanup plans will be developed for each of those segments.
Tucker alleviated one woman's fears that Chevron will start at the easternmost point and clean west from there, similar to the flow of the oil, saying "we're going to take data from our study [Monday] and prioritize our remediation process in agreement with [the Environmental Protection Agency]. It will be based on the number of people affected, how much of a health hazard there is."
Camron Carpenter was one of several speakers urging Chevron to move quickly, noting that every time it rains, the flows down Red Butte Creek pick up quickly, possibly sending oil downstream into previously cleaned stretches.
Poplar Grove resident Camille Biexei pleaded with officials to pay as much attention to the Jordan River and the spill's impact on west-siders as the east-siders along Red Butte.
"The west side often has been marginalized. I would really like to see you going door to door in that corridor," she said, concerned that she saw no signs of wildlife in her morning walk Monday along the Jordan River Parkway.
Tucker pledged to do so, noting that "we won't treat it any differently than any other part of town. After we looked at [the Jordan River on Sunday], we doubled the number of people and booms in that area."
The spill flowed through affluent east-side neighborhoods -- such as Yalecrest -- and more modest areas near Liberty Park and the west side's Jordan River.
Chevron spokesman Dan Johnson said the oil giant had fielded 300 calls to its spill hot line as of Monday evening and 14 claim requests. (That number is 1-866-752-6340.)
Military Drive residents Neil and Tanya Vickers said they plan to file a claim to have Chevron cover the cost of their stay Sunday night at a hotel after being sickened by the smell coming from Red Butte, which runs through their backyard.
Tucker advised any residents who feel ill to do similarly, prompting one participant to suggest the Residence Inn as a good place to stay.
"The Hotel Monaco or the Grand America is what I had in mind," quipped another resident.