Fuel spill contained in Chassell Township

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette Crews remove contaminated soil from the site of a Feb. 3 fuel spill in Chassell Township Friday. Booms placed on the Sturgeon River were successful in preventing the spill from spreading beyond the immediate area of the crash, the Western Upper Peninsula Health Department said.

CHASSELL TOWNSHIP — Thanks to quick action, the fuel spill in Chassell Township was contained to the area near the Sturgeon River Bridge. 

Ray Sharp, community planning and preparedness manager for the Western Upper Peninsula Health Department, credited the Chassell Township Fire Department and Houghton County Office of Emergency Management for their work on the ice after the crash. They had put down containment booms, barriers used to contain spilled material. 

“That, and the fact that the river was frozen solid, stopped the spread of the fuel so it’s not going downriver towards Portage Lake,” he said. 

The EPA and environmental consultants took samples at 42 sites along the Sturgeon River downstream from the bridge to both branches of the river into Pike Bay and Portage Lake. No fuel was detected. 

One person was killed in the four-vehicle crash Feb. 3 in Chassell Township, which occurred when another vehicle attempted to pass a fuel tanker truck on the icy road. The fuel truck overturned in the crash, spilling 4,000 gallons of gas and 500 gallons of diesel. 

Workers are projecting U.S. 41 will be reopened to two lanes of traffic sometime next week. Sometime over the next few days, Sharp said, they should finish removing contaminated soil and snow from the site. The material will be taken to the Ontonagon County landfill, which has a special lining that can accept material from fuel spills. 

Sheet pile has been installed along the edge of the river and the side of the bridge to stop any materials from entering the river. 

Air and water testing have turned up minimal cause for concern so far. The Environmental Protection Agency and Health Department have done air monitoring at sites nearby. 

“Aside from some low-level readings in the areas where the workers are, there’s no concerns about any health risks to the community, Chassell Township, the school or any residents beyond the immediate site,” Sharp said. 

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality determined there were no concerns about fuel getting into municipal water supplies. A small number of private residential water sources will be tested weekly to assure the residents their water is safe, Sharp said. 

Sharp reminded motorists to be cautious while driving through the area. Excavation continues along the embankments of the river. Dump trucks are also moving in and out of the area frequently. 

Snowmobiling is not allowed near the bridge. In addition to the equipment, there is also open water due to the removal of a chunk of contaminated ice.