State Studies How to Clean Up 4,000-gallon Fuel Spill That May Have Soaked Into Roadbed

Jan 24, 2017

Officials with the state Department of Environmental Conservation and a Fairbanks-based trucking company are still assessing the extent of a recent fuel spill along the Richardson Highway south of Paxson. Officials with the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation say it appears that diesel from a Colville Transport tanker crash has seeped into the road bed.

DEC officials say workers with Colville Transport and its cleanup contractor have removed less than 500 gallons of diesel fuel from an area along the Richardson Highway near Meiers Lake, where the Colville tanker truck crashed Jan. 10, spilling 4,329 gallons of diesel.

An estimated 4,329 gallons of diesel fuel leaked out of the forward compartment of a 10,000-gallon fuel tank that overturned when the driver wrecked on Jan. 10 around milepost 164.4 of the Richardson Highway, about 20 miles south of Paxson. No fuel leaked from a 5,000-gallon secondary "pup trailer" that the double-tanker truck was also pulling.
Credit Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation

The contractor also removed about 120 cubic yards – or about 10 dump-truck loads – of diesel-contaminated snow, vegetation and soil from the area. But DEC officials believe most of the diesel soaked into the roadbed and the ground below. So they say not much more can be done until Colville brings in equipment to drill samples around the area to find out how far the diesel spread underground.

“Right now, we’re just figuring out the complete impact area,” says Ashley Adamczak, an environmental program specialist with the DEC’s Fairbanks office. “Once we have a better understanding of the subsurface, then we can start to make a lot of those decisions.”

Adamczak says the federal Bureau of Land Management has approved the state’s request to excavate contaminated material from land the BLM administers alongside that stretch of the highway. And she says the state Department of Transportation has OK’d a request to remove tainted material from its right-of-way. But she says DEC wants more information before giving the go-ahead for either operation.

“Once we get that information, then we have some options on how to move forward, Adamczak said. “One of which is to do removal outside the right-of-way, to remove any contamination in the BLM land.”

Colville responders cleaned up as much free-standing diesel fuel as possible – less than 500 gallons – around the spill site by using absorbent pads and lined containment enclosures.
Credit Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation

DEC officials say it’s been tough to get much done over the past couple of weeks, due to a lack of space to operate around that narrow, hilly stretch of the highway, and because of heavy snow, cold weather and traffic related to the Copper Basin 300 sled-dog race. Adamczak says any excavation of the roadway itself probably won’t be done until warmer weather arrives.

“We would not do any excavation within the DOT right-of-way until the summer, when we don’t have to worry about causing a hazard along the road,” she said.

DEC officials say that kind of an operation will require closing both lanes of the highway to allow equipment to excavate contaminated material. The officials say the agency will submit a plan to control traffic during the operation. But a Transportation Department spokesperson says the agency doesn’t yet have enough information on the proposal.

The Transportation Department’s Commercial Vehicle Enforcement office is investigating the wreck. And Adamczak says Colville will have to pay all costs associated with the cleanup.