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Oil spill cleanup nearly complete

Cliff Thompson

A tanker truck overturned there April 28 when its driver, Ricky Hager, 48, of Thermo Fluid, Inc., misjudged the final hairpin on the Eagle County side of the pass while enroute to Meeker, toppling his rig into the ditch alongside the road.

The motor oil spilled out of the damaged truck, flowed beneath the snow, then ran into wetlands and abandoned beaver ponds at the headwaters of the Eagle River, on U.S. Forest Service land. A series of beaver dams largely contained the spill, however, water officials said.

From an environmental impact standpoint, it’s fortunate the spill was used motor oil, which breaks down slower than diesel fuel or gasoline, said Caroline Bradford of the Eagle River Watershed Council.

Used motor oil is not classified a hazardous material, said Trooper Matt Drymon of the Hazardous Materials Section of the Colorado State Patrol.

A crew from Custom Environmental Services, wearing biohazard suits, boots and gloves, installed booms to catch the oil and skimmed it from the ponds. The crew also removed 740 cubic yards, or 37 truckloads, of dirt and vegetation contaminated by the oil. It was taken to a special landfill.

“It’s the only way to get rid of the oil,” said Steve Ross of Thermo Fluids, Inc., owner of the truck.

“There’s a big difference between what it looked like Monday and what it looked like (Wednesday),” said Dave Van Norman, of the Holy Cross District of the White River National Forest.

The used motor oil is burned in asphalt kilns used to make new pavement, said Ross.

Ross said there were 5,400 gallons of fuel in the tanker and approximately 1,300 spilled when the truck was damaged in the accident.

Driver Hager hitched a ride to Leadville’s St. Vincent’s hospital, where he had his forehead stitched. There were no other injuries in the accident. Hager was charged with careless driving.

Highway 24 is not only a Colorado Scenic Byway but a designated haulway for hazardous materials, said Trooper Drymon.

Van Norman said once it’s determined all the oil has been removed, the area will be planted with willows and native grasses and covered with straw to reduce erosion.

“We will probably require some water-quality sampling throughout the summer to make sure nothing else is there,” he said.

The remaining oil in the vehicle was pumped out before the truck was righted and towed.

The cleanup, to be paid for by the trucking company, is expected to cost somewhere between $250,000 and $500,000, Ross said.

Cliff Thompson can be reached at 949-0555 ext 450 or cthompson@vaildaily.com.


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