Field Notes
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Field Notes Entry   
KOYUKUK: Diesel fuel spill cleaned up
Alaska Region, September 30, 2004
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In 2004 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service initiated a project to clean up a 40+ year-old stockpile of diesel fuel that was found in a remote part of Koyukuk NWR, northwest of the village of Huslia. Three Service offices, including the Refuge, Ecological Services, and Division of Engineering cooperated with the Huslia Tribe and Alaska Dept. of Environmental Conservation to secure funding and plan for the project. A proposal was submitted in the winter of 2003/04 through the Service's Refuge Cleanup Projects funding. A total of $150,000.00 was received in FY 2004 and the project was 90% completed by freezeup in September 2004.

The 171 metal 55 gallon drums were discovered by Huslia residents in October 2002 along Billy Hawk Creek in the northwestern corner of Koyukuk National Wildlife Refuge. Discussions with Huslia villagers suggested that the drums had been in place since the 1960's and were left while enroute to a gold mining operation north of the Refuge. The stockpile site is accessible only by river boat. In the summer of 2003, Keith Mueller, Contaminants Specialist from the FWS Ecological Services office in Fairbanks and Deputy Refuge Manager Greg McClellan traveled to the site to conduct an assessment and inventory of the site. They found that significant contamination to the ground had occurred, however, the contamination appeared to be localized and not spreading. Of the 171 drums, 146 were 75-100% full of liquid, which seemed similar in every drum. Contents of five drums were sampled and indicated that all five samples were the same product, diesel fuel.

In spring 2004 a heavy duty river boat was purchased for the cleanup and three residents of the village of Huslia were hired to operate the boat and clean the site. The cleanup entailed hauling clean 55 gallon drums to the site, pumping the fuel from the old drums into the new drums and then hauling the new drums and old empty drums 94 river miles back to Huslia. The diesel fuel was offered to residents of Huslia for their local use. The empty drums were disposed of in the Huslia landfill. Several challenges slowed progress on the cleanup: the barge transporting gasoline and empty drums arrived late at the end of June; record low water levels in July and August did not allow the boat to operate at full capacity; and each drum weighed over 400 pounds. The crew surmounted the challenges and by the end of September nearly all of the drum contents had been transported to Huslia. The final load of four drums has to wait until 2005 because ice formation in Billy Hawk Creek prevented the last run. Eighty of the original, but now empty drums, also remain at the site. The remaining items will be hauled in the summer of 2005.

Removal of soil for treatment or disposal is impractical due to the extremely remote location, the age of the discharges, and the apparent non-mobility of the discharged fluids. Service officials determined that disturbance of the soil may cause more harm than good due to increased mobility of the spilled product as a result of the disturbance. With the concurrence of the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, the Refuge determined that the best alternative would be to allow the discharged diesel fuel to decompose in-place.

Contact Info: Kristen Gilbert, 907-786-3391, Kristen_Gilbert@fws.gov
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