Up Begins at Sabine National Wildlife Refuge
Hackberry, LA—Sabine National Wildlife Refuge was trashed by hurricane Rita one year ago this week. This wildlife haven was literally covered with tons of debris carried into refuge marshes by Rita’s storm surge. Almost one fourth of this125,000 acre wetland refuge is covered with remnant homes, businesses, and industries from along Louisiana’s coast. The approximately seven million cubic meters of debris (250,000 dump truck loads) contains everything from teddy bears to tanks the size of large 18-wheelers. A post hurricane assessment identified 1,400 potential hazardous material items containing an estimated 115,000 to 350,000 gallons of hazardous liquids and gases blown and submerged throughout refuge wetlands.
After hurricane Rita, FEMA had the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency clean up Cameron Parish, but the Stafford Act prevented them from working on federal property. Recovery of identified hazardous materials was estimated to cost millions to remove, which the Service did not have. On June 15, 2006 , President Bush and Congress approved a $132.4 million emergency supplemental fund for the Service to clean-up and make hurricane-related repairs throughout the Southeast. $12 million from this supplemental will be used for the current clean-up operation at Sabine National Wildlife Refuge.
“The scope and complexity of this recovery effort is unprecedented,” said Don Voros, Project Leader of the Southwest Louisiana National Wildlife Refuge Complex. “We’ve made excellent progress to make this refuge safe for the public and for the wildlife.”
An Incident Command staff composed of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Coast Guard, and Tennessee Valley Authority employees assembled during July 2006 to oversee the Sabine clean-up operation. Shortly after, Clean Harbors Environmental Services was contracted to conduct the debris removal. It takes thoughtful planning and specialized equipment to remove debris from sensitive wetland areas without road access. Service staff and wetlands specialists plan the recovery of each item in a safe manner with the least amount of damage to the wetlands.
This clean-up team includes 120 recovery workers and more than 40 highly specialized pieces of equipment. Equipment being used to accomplish the mission include: single, double, and triple engine airboats, airboat cranes, outboard boats, pontoon barges, long and short reach excavators, marsh buggies and draglines, four wheelers, vacuum trucks and other miscellaneous equipment. There are approximately 40 equipment resources deployed in the field.
In less than a month, the container recovery unit has collected 1,283 items. The first container recovered was a leaking 55-gallon drum of oil sighted during an aerial reconnaissance and removed August 23, 2006.
The most hazardous materials collected so far have been propane, antifreeze and gasoline tanks. The largest tanks removed have been 20,000 gallon oil production tanks. Later this week a 30,000 gallon tank, the size of a large 18-wheeler will be recovered from the marsh. As these large containers are brought into the collection site, owners are being contacted to come pick them up, which all have done so far.
Collected items include:
The major clean-up effort should be finshed by December 2006. After that, the roads, restrooms and other facilities will still need to be constructed, which could take an additional six months or longer.
“We hope to have portions of the refuge open by next summer,” said Voros. He went on to say that the Service will have an ongoing monitoring program to be prepared for any items not found during the initial recovery effort which may be later discovered and might pose a threat to public safety, wildlife or the environment.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 95-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System, which encompasses 545 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 69 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resources offices and 81 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign and Native American tribal governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Assistance program, which distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies.
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