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Diesel hits beaches near Kodiak as some 20 workers try to limit impact

U.S. Coast Guard photo

Some 20 cleanup workers were on the scene Sunday, working to limit the impact of a spill of some 15,000 gallons of diesel after the 174-foot Army vessel Monterrey hit a rock, rupturing one of its fuel tanks.

The spill threatens the Buskin River area, which, the state says, supports the single-largest subsistence salmon fishery within the Kodiak-Aleutian islands region. Sockeye salmon, halibut and Dolly Varden swim in the waters of Chiniak Bay at this time of year, although Steve Russell, the on-scene coordinator for the state Department of Environmental Conservation, said commerical fishing in the area isn't open yet and there have been no reports of sport anglers in the area.

"There has been diesel in contact with the beaches," Russell said on Sunday.  "But we're monitoring it closely, and it's no great concern at this time."

The 174-foot Monterrey, operated by the Army's 311th Expeditionary Sustainment Command, was traveling from California to Bethel to deliver construction equipment to relocate a Western Alaska village. It struck the rock near Puffin Island in Chiniak Bay shortly after departing Kodiak late Friday.

The Monterrey's forward section was damaged, according to state environmental regulators. An estimated 15,291 gallons of diesel from two fuel compartments has been released in Chiniak Bay as of late Saturday afternoon, the U.S. Coast Guard said. Russell said the estimate of the fuel lost was not likely to rise.  "Essentially, what the Coast Guard is doing is taking the quantity in those tanks and saying all lost, even though we think some is still on board." Three of the 17 people onboard were taken off with minor injuries. 

"We're using absorbant pads, and a lot of fuel has been picked up from those," said Grant DeVuvuyst, a petty officer third class with the Coast Guard.  "It looks like the booms are effective."

On Sunday, some absorbant booms were changed out, but there was no estimate yet how much diesel was collected in them. There wasn't enough fuel in the water to consider using dispersant, officials said. 

Added Russell:  "We're not seeing diesel out there like you did yesterday.  We're looking for hot spots where it may collect.  We're walking beaches and stuff like that so we have a better sense of the impact."

The Coast Guard, which has a base nearby in Kodiak, has responded to the incident and contracted Alaska Chadux to conduct containment and cleanup activities.

In addition to the boom surrounding the Monterrey, more is in place at the mouth of the Buskin River. Response teams are exploring the possibility of skimming vessels to clear surface fuel, according to the Coast Guard.

The Monterrey, a landing craft with the 481st Transportation Company was traveling from Port Hueneme, Calif., to Bethel, carrying construction equipment and vehicles for the U.S. Marine Corps to relocate an Alaska village:

The construction equipment was to be used in a federal project to move the villagers of Newtok to Mertarvik, about nine miles away, the Army Reserve said in a statement. The Marine Corps is leading the construction of an emergency shelter, homes, roads and an airfield for the villagers.

A salvage plan for the Monterrey is being developed. That may involve towing the ship to a Kodiak dock and then to a shipyard for repairs. 

In addition to the cleanup workers on the scene, another two dozen are monitoring the operations at a command center.