Nearly four months after a ruptured barge leaked 230,000 gallons of oil off the coast of Washington, the Olympic National Park still has not been fully cleaned up, and won't be for years, park Superintendent Robert Chandler said Thursday.
Chandler's testimony came before the House Interior Committee's national parks subcommittee, which is looking into the environmental damage that can be expected from the Prince William Sound oil spill.
As the Alaska spill moves out of the Sound, it is threatening at least three national parks far more isolated from cleanup crews than Olympic National Park.
Boyd Evison, Alaska regional director of the National Park Service, said that so far little oil has washed onto the shores of the parks, but that damage is inevitable.
"It is hard to say what the impacts will be," Evison said. "But it is clear the oil will be moving through the ecosystem for some time."
Chandler was invited to the hearing to detail what effects his park has suffered since a barge being towed near Grays Harbor broke loose from a tug and ruptured.
Ocean currents carried that oil as far south as Oregon and as far north as British Columbia. Chandler said, however, that the bulk of the damage occurred in the park, where he said 10 of the 18 sites where oil washed ashore were located.
Chandler said most of the visible oil has been sopped up. About 750 tons of oiled debris has been removed from the park, he said.
In three areas where wave action mixed the oil below the surface of the sandy beaches, the cleanup has been the most difficult.
Chandler said the spill killed 10,000 birds. The secondary effects on other wildlife and marine habitat are unknown, he said.
"The visual effects and certainly some biological effects will be there for some time," Chandler said.
Chandler's testimony was a grim foreshadowing of what is in store for Alaska. There were a lot of questions for Evison but few answers.
"Is there any way you can see to prevent heavy oiling of Kenai Fjords National Park?" asked the subcommittee chairman, Rep. Bruce Vento, DMinn.
"It is hard to tell," Evison replied.
"Isn't the park relatively helpless?" Vento asked.
"It is hard to say what the impacts will be," Evison said.
On the crucial question can an oildamaged park ever be completely restored Chandler had an answer.
"The standard we applied was no oil," he said. "I don't believe we will ever be able to meet that. I don't believe we will be able to remove every drop of oil. We will not be able to get the park back to the way it was."
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