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Chippewa River oil spill heading toward Midland
By Jeremiah Stettler
Bay City Times
03/02/04


State officials are keeping a close eye on an oil spill spotted on the Chippewa River, and are keeping their fingers crossed it does not drift downstream to the Tittabawassee River.

As of late Monday, emergency crews hadn't stopped the spill.

"Because of the high river flow, it may not be possible to contain it before it reaches the Tittabawassee River," said Patricia Spitzley, spokeswoman for the Department of Environmental Quality.

The Chippewa meets the Tittabawassee in Midland, and the Tittabawassee flows into the Saginaw River, which empties into the Saginaw Bay.

Spitzley said the spill presumably is linked to Central Asphalt Inc. in Mount Pleasant, where an oil-water separator may have overflowed because of rapid snowmelt. She could not say how much oil escaped.

Spitzley said state Department of Natural Resources officials do not see the spill as an immediate threat to Chippewa River fish.

Central Asphalt officials neither confirmed nor denied that they are to blame for the spill, but said they are actively involved in the cleanup.

The oil spill was spotted around 10 a.m. Monday floating in the Chippewa River near Mount Pleasant.

Crews trained to handle hazardous materials tried to contain the slick by spanning the river with inflatable booms, used to corral the floating contaminant. Fast-moving water, however, prevented that method from working, Spitzley said, leaving the oil adrift.

"It appears to be progressing toward the Midland County line," she said.

Roger Garner, director of emergency services for Midland County, is taking a wait-and-see position. He drove along the ice-plated river Monday afternoon, but said the oil hasn't reached his community yet.

Then again, he doesn't expect it to.

"We've discussed the possibility of trying to catch any oil that is still in the river," he said. "But we really haven't made a determination yet. We're not anticipating much of a problem here."

If the spill continues to drift downstream, it would empty into the Tittabawassee River at the Midland Tridge. The spill then could flow southeast into Saginaw County.

State officials confirmed that the oil will not affect drinking water supplies in either Mount Pleasant or Midland. Mount Pleasant collects its water upstream from the spill while Midland shares a Lake Huron pipeline with the city of Saginaw.

The Department of Environmental Quality and local hazardous materials personnel are working with two private companies to scrub the river clean, Mount Pleasant Police reported Monday. State officials also are awaiting sampling results from the river.

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