Traverse City Record-Eagle

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April 28, 2012

EPA must be vigilant in monitoring river

There may be a silver lining to the oil sludge that flowed into the Kalamazoo River when an Enbridge Energy Partners pipeline ruptured near Battle Creek and Marshall in July 2010.

True, the spill dumped more than 800,00 gallons of oil in the already damaged river. That's according Enbridge. The Environmental Protection Agency suggests that closer to 1.1 million gallons of heavy crude went into the Kalamazoo River and Talmadge Creek.

On Wednesday, a portion of the river opened to the public for the first time since the spill. It was largely a symbolic event, given the clean-up of the river continues, with some residents alleging that as much as 200 acres of oil-soaked soil remains submerged in the river.

Ralph Dollhopf, the EPA federal on-scene coordinator, took 12 others on a kayak trip down a three-mile stretch of the river, from Perrin Dam to Saylor's Landing. The majority of the river, including parts of Morrow Lake in Kalamazoo County, is expected to be open in mid-summer.

"We are not done. We have a lot to do yet," Dollhopf said on Wednesday. "While we are being careful and taking our time to get the last remnants of the oil out, we think we can do it in a way that affords the public the opportunity to enjoy the river as we did today. That's what it's all about." The silver lining is not that more than 600 days of clean-up have been completed. And, it's not that a small portion of the river reopened to the public. Although, both are nice facts to celebrate.

The silver lining, and this is small consolation, is that the EPA continues to monitor the river, paying some attention to this vital water source that has been abused and polluted for decades. In 1990, portions of the river were named a Superfund site because of PCB contamination. Polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, were put into the river, or in nearby landfills that leaked, by paper mills.

The chemical was banned in 1979 and is considered a likely human carcinogen.

Does the monitoring ameliorate the harm of the spill? No, the spill was an environmental disaster that we will not know the full impact of for years to come. But, at the very least, it forces the EPA to continue to put some focus on this vital resource, which is very, very slowly being remediated by paper companies and Enbridge.

We hope the EPA remains vigilant. The river should not — or cannot — be forgotten. If we continue to abuse it, then at the very least we need to give it the consideration and attention it needs to nurse it back to health.

Kalamazoo Gazette

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