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As EPA Takes Over Kalamazoo River Clean Up, Mixed Messages About Threat To Lake Michigan

By Marcus Gilmer in News on Jul 29, 2010 2:20PM

There were mixed messages coming out of Michigan yesterday where workers continued to clean up an oil spill on the Kalamazoo River near Marshall. The EPA has officially taken over clean-up duties and is now reporting that over one million gallons of oil leaked into the river and is affecting a 25-mile stretch of the river between Marshall and Battle Creek. U.S. Rep. Fred Upton (R, St. Joseph) indicated there were no hitches in the clean-up: “They seem to be getting everything. The system seems to be working at the moment.” But Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm blasted the clean-up efforts. Calling the response "anemic," and "wholly inadequate," she added, “I’m very angered. We need for the responsible party (Enbridge Inc.) and the EPA to step up. The situation is very serious.” Rep. Mark Schauer echoed Gov. Graholm's anger, questioning the time it took Enbridge Energy Partners, the company that owns the pipeline, to report the leak and that officials might be underestimating how much oil entered the river. The EPA's takeover of the clean-up was underscored by the fact that Enbridge had been warned twice since late 2008 about possible pipeline corrosion and monitoring issues.

But, more importantly for us here in Chicago: could the oil possibly reach Lake Michigan? Currently, oil is still about 80 miles downriver from where the Kalamazoo empties in to Lake Michigan. Officials in charge of the clean-up still say the oil is contained but, according to the Detroit Free Press, "Hydrologists with the National Weather Service have previously said the oil, if not stopped, could reach Lake Michigan by Sunday." The mixed messages between Rep. Upton and Gov. Graholm extended to how far the oil had spread.

Tom Sands, deputy state director for emergency management and homeland security, said that on Wednesday he saw a “light sheen” of oil past the Morrow Dam in Comstock Township, a structure that company and EPA officials had hoped would be the last stand in the effort to halt the oil’s downstream progress.

But Ed Sackley, Upton’s district representative, said he received different information during a briefing given by officials from Enbridge and the EPA at 4 p.m. Wednesday in Marshall.

If oil were to get past Morrow Dam, it could carry downstream to the river's Superfund site, adding to the headache of an already-in-progress massive chemical clean-up effort in the river. Oil would also be able to quickly reach Saugatack, on Lake Michigan's eastern shore, where the oil could possibly enter Lake Michigan. Again, though, officials believe the threat is low - for now - in spite of the mixed messages. The Detroit Free Press has a nice map showing the location of the spill and the areas affected.