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Midwest Region
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Service Responds to Mississippi River Spill

Midwest Region personnel mobilized over the Thanksgiving holiday and weekend to keep large numbers of migrating diving ducks from encountering oil from a spill on the Upper Mississippi River. A sinking, northbound tow, the Stephen L Colby, ran ashore to save the crew after it struck a submerged object and began taking on water. The vessel, carrying 91,000 gallons of fuel, began to discharge diesel fuel into the river. The City of LeClaire, Iowa, was able to deploy booms out and around the sunken tow within 50 minutes of the incident, greatly reducing the size of the emergency response. But it wasn't over yet.

Following the spill, contaminants biologist Mike Coffey met with the U.S. Coast Guard, which led the incident command team. Use of the incident command system is standard practice for emergency oil spill responses. As fuel continued to leak from the tow, Coffey organized the command’s wildlife branch and began to address the diesel fuel accumulating behind the existing booms. The wildlife branch also set up wildlife deterrents and made plans to capture and rehabilitate oiled wildlife if necessary. It was quickly determined that the oiled river habitat was not within the National Wildlife Refuge System, and federally listed species were not at the site.

This reach of the river in late November and early December is a popular stopover location for tens of thousands of diving ducks during fall migration. There were also a number of mallards from the local area. The wildlife deterrent plans were designed to keep the mallards out of the diesel fuel and keep diving ducks out of the area. Additional plans were made to haze rafts of diving ducks while the responders removed oil from behind the booms and from the vessel before lifting it out of the water with large cranes. We dubbed these contingencies as Operation Canvasback. The plan was to use a flotilla of boats to keep pushing the waterfowl to safe areas along the river.

The only oiled birds found during the spill response were two mallards and one Canada goose. All of these birds were found dead or died shortly afterwards. There was evidence of previous debilitating conditions in the birds based on their behavior, wounds, or emaciation. 

Ed Britton from the Savanna District supervised the wildlife reconnaissance and relieved Coffey as the Wildlife Branch director the response. Click here for more.

Their primary tasks were to monitor the movement of diving ducks into the area and be prepared to haze them away to prevent exposure to the diesel fuel while the responders removed the oil from the river and salvaged the vessel. Other offices near the spill site were the Savanna District of the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife Refuge and Port Louisa National Wildlife Refuge. Biologists from the refuge offices and additional staff from the Ecological Services field conducted shoreline searches for oiled wildlife. Service participants included Drew Becker, Eric Tomasovic, Russ Engelke, Bob Clevenstine and Ron Knopic. In addition, volunteers from the river cleanup group known as Living Lands and Waters supported the responsible party in patrolling areas in boats with high city duck use. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Coast Guard also provided personnel for the wildlife branch.

-- Mike Coffey
Rock Island Field Office

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Contaminants Biologist Mike Coffey and the U.S. Coast Guard’s Lt. Colin Fogarty rescue a duck from the diesel fuel.  (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Coast Guard)

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Contaminants Biologist Mike Coffey and the U.S. Coast Guard’s Lt. Colin Fogarty rescue a duck from the diesel fuel. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Coast Guard)




Last updated: January 16, 2014