The driver of a diesel-fuel tanker truck lost control of his rig Monday and wrecked in a remote spot on the Richardson Highway south of Paxson, spilling some 4,000 gallons of diesel fuel. And now, officials with a Fairbanks-based trucking company and the state are trying to figure out a way to remove contaminated material from the area while allowing traffic to pass through the narrow, winding stretch of roadway.
The state Department of Transportation’s Commercial Vehicle Enforcement office are investigating the wreck, which occurred at about 3:15 p.m. Monday around milepost 164 of the Richardson Highway, near Meiers Lake about 20 miles south of Paxson.
Alaska State Troopers say the 57-year-old Fairbanks man driving the double-tanker rig is OK and that no other vehicles were involved.
State Department of Environmental Conservation responders say the truck and tanks slid into the ditch, tearing a hole in the forward tank. DEC spokeswoman Ashley Adamczak says the tank holds 10,000 gallons, but that only about 4,000 gallons leaked onto ground. The 5,000-gallon secondary tank in tow did not leak. But Adamczak says responders have had a hard time working around that narrow, bumpy stretch of highway.
“What we’re trying to do is assess how much area has been impacted by the fuel,” she said, “and it’s particularly challenging in this area, due to the location of the spill and the impacted area in relationship to the roadway.”
DEC says the fuel leaked into an area about 5 feet wide by 170 feet long in the ditch off the northbound lane of the highway. Adamczak says that worries responders, because the roadbed sits lower than the surrounding terrain.
“One of our primary concerns for this response is the fuel that migrated under the roadway,” she said. “The spill occurred on the uphill side of the road. So, the likely migration pathway is both moving south along the roadway and moving west – under the road.”
Adamszak says that would make it difficult to remove contaminated material in the roadbed.
“We can’t just dig a hole in the middle of the road and look for fuel there and start digging it out,” she said.
DEC responders say Colville Transport, the Fairbanks-based company operating the tanker, and its cleanup contractor have removed fuel left standing on the surface. And Adamszak says the wrecked truck has been taken back to Fairbanks. And she says responders are now trying to figure out how to bring in heavy equipment to excavate contaminated snow, soil, vegetation and gravel.
“There isn’t a pullout or another driveway or something relatively close to be used as a staging area,” she said. “So that is also going to create a challenge in just getting the equipment into the area.”
Adamszak says responders now plan to begin intermittently closing one or both lanes of the highway, perhaps as early as today to enable the equipment to operate.
Transportation Department spokeswoman Meadow Bailey says her agency is working with DEC on a traffic-control plan that would include intermittent lane closures. Bailey says motorists should check the department’s online highway-traffic information site, 511.alaska.gov, if they’re headed south on the Richardson over the next few days.