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Two Oil Spills at Columbia Dams Reported

by Erik Robinson
The Columbian, February 28, 2004

The Army Corps of Engineers on Friday reported a pair of oil spills, one 2 ounces and the other 50 gallons, at Bonneville and The Dalles dams on the Columbia River.

The corps promptly reported the spills to state and federal regulators, and issued public notices to the news media.

Last month, the corps took plenty of criticism for its handling of a spill at The Dalles Dam that resulted in 1,300 gallons of mineral oil leaking into the Columbia River.

A government review panel criticized the corps for lax inspection and aging equipment in that incident. The leak occurred after water-filled cooling pipes on an electrical transformer ruptured on Jan. 14.

Environmental groups rapped the corps for slow spill response and initially under-reporting the size of the spill.

So, on Friday, corps officials took care to notify the public about a discharge of 2 ounces of oil to the Columbia when a submerged gearbox leaked at Bonneville Dam. The leak, discovered Friday morning, caused a small sheen on the upstream side of the powerhouse closest to the Washington shore. The spill was contained within a gate slot on the upstream side of the dam, according to the corps, and absorbent pads were used to soak it up.

"We're reporting everything these days," corps spokesman Matt Rabe said. "We're being sensitive to the needs of the public in wanting to know what's happening on their river."

Later Friday, the corps reported an oil sheen measuring about an acre in size -- 50 gallons at most, Rabe said -- moving downstream from The Dalles Dam. Rabe said the corps was working to determine the cause of the spill, which appeared to emanate from the dam's powerhouse.

It follows a spill of about 2 gallons at The Dalles Dam on Monday, when maintenance crews inadvertently spilled oil that had been trapped in a turbine.

Corps officials said they are still updating their spill-response processes and personnel training, so maintenance crews were unable to deploy containment booms around either spill.

That fact was not lost on one environmental watchdog, who has argued the corps should have booms and absorbent pads ready for immediate deployment in case of future spills.

"It's kind of like Mother Nature's trying to tell you something," said Greg deBruler, with the environmental group Columbia Riverkeeper. "We need booms at every dam, period."

Erik Robinson
Two Oil Spills at Columbia Dams Reported
The Columbian, February 28, 2004

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