HANCOCK — Traffic is hoped to be restored to a section of U.S. 41 in Hancock Saturday, two days after a gas tanker spill.
The roadway was being remediated and replaced Friday. Detours remained in place Friday between Quincy Street and White Street.
The pavement was removed to check if any gas had permeated the aggregate underneath, Houghton County Emergency Measures Director Chris Van Arsdale said. Only a minor amount was found.
That had also been a concern during the 2018 spill near the Sturgeon River in Chassell, he said.
“If that were the case, then every time it rained for the next five years, it would continue to leach out,” he said.
The Portage Canal was reopened for recreational use in most places after having been closed, following an updated health advisory from the Western Upper Peninsula Health Department (WUPHD), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE), which are helping coordinate the response. EPA is still on-site and has been overseeing and conducting air monitoring in the community, EPA spokesperson Rachel Bassler said.
However, the public is still asked to avoid any places with a visible rainbow sheen. Those areas may shift quickly due to wind and weather, the WUPHD said Friday. As of Friday afternoon, the WUPHD was asking residents to avoid recreational use in two areas:
– The Hancock waterfront — between the release site (below the Jutila Center) to Mill Street and from the Portage Lake Lift Bridge east to the Keweenaw National Historical Park smelter site.
– The Houghton waterfront — directly across from the release site (Jutila Center) extending east to Lake Street (near Super 8). This includes the Kestner Waterfront Park beach area.
Some gas reached the Portage Canal via the sewer system; drinking water was unaffected by the spill. The tank contained about 8,500 gallons. The exact amount that reached the canal is hard to gauge, Van Arsdale said. About 1,960 gallons were pumped out of the tank Thursday morning. Crews recovered 3,852 gallons from the spill that were blocked by a berm; however, that amount also includes fire-suppressing foam sprayed on the site, Van Arsdale said.
Floating boom was placed around the storm sewer a couple of hours after the spill Thursday morning to prevent more from spilling into the canal.
“After they vacuumed up all the spill out here, they’ve been down cleaning out of that contained area, to try to keep more of it from getting in,” Van Arsdale said.
As for the gas in the canal, the advice from the Environmental Protection Agency has been to let the sunlight gradually break it up, Van Arsdale said.
“If you look at what we had yesterday versus what we had today, you can really see where it’s broken up quite a bit,” he said. “They said the skimmers and things we see like that on TV aren’t very effective with gasoline … their guidance in a gasoline spill like this is to essentially let it evaporate off.”
It will continue to be monitored over the next few days, from the air, shore and water, Van Arsdale said.
Aside from the immediate vicinity of the spill, air monitoring has shown benzene levels below the level of concern since the incident, Van Arsdale said.
The fuel and sand are being taken to separate hazardous waste sites. The sand will be taken to a landfill in Greenland.
“You actually have to have a sample of it, test it, and give them a profile of that … then they can decide whether to accept it or not, and they give you a price,” he said.
The Tire Shop was reopened Friday morning, and is accessible via North Ethel Avenue, the Hancock Fire Department said.
Residents near the spill were temporarily evacuated, but were allowed to return to their homes by around 8 p.m. Thursday, the Hancock Fire Department said. Residents are still requested to avoid the area of the spill if possible due to the petroleum and heavy machinery.
The City of Hancock asked residents to contact wildlife rehabilitator Michelle Anderson if they saw any birds affected by the spill. None have been reported so far, Anderson said Friday afternoon.
Departments responded to a similar spill in Chassell Township in 2018. Just last month, many local agencies were also involved in a Coast Guard-led simulation of an oil spill off Isle Royale.
“We were kind of laughing as people were arriving yesterday: a lot of the same people from the different agencies that were in Chassell are here as well, even remotely.”
Van Arsdale credited the Hancock Fire Department and Department of Public Works for the quick work in constructing a dirt berm Thursday morning, which helped prevent more gas from spreading.
“That made this cleanup go a lot faster,” he said. “We’re not quite done, but we’ve made a lot of progress … overall, we’ve been pretty happy with the response.”
In addition to the EPA and EGLE, the Coast Guard both in Duluth and Dollar Bay helped report back the limits of the spread in the canal. Superior Search & Rescue and Civil Air Patrol have also been helpful in providing aerial views, Van Arsdale said.
“To see where that sheen really is, rather than just seeing it from the side, has been really helpful in planning where to go to test things, especially things like air quality and other major concerns,” he said.
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