COLUMBIA FALLS — “We are still very on the edge here,” Dwayne Shaw of Downeast Salmon Federation’s Pleasant River Hatchery said Thursday, two days after 1,000 gallons of off-road diesel fuel spilled into the river and contaminated the waters both inside and outside of the hatchery.
The spill began Tuesday with a broken fuel pump at Foss Construction on Tibbettstown Road. The spilled fuel flowed through the ground into the Little River and then into the Pleasant River, contaminating a three-and-a-half mile area. Some contaminated water entered the hatchery before the spill was noticed and the intake pipes shut down.
Shaw said only one dead brook trout has been found in the Pleasant River but the smelt fishery at the mouth of the river has been closed under an emergency order of the Maine Department of Marine Resources.
“The smelters had already decided not to continue,” Shaw said. “When they pulled in their nets Tuesday night, they could see the oil in the nets.” The smelt season was due to end for the year at midnight Thursday.
Meanwhile, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection is trucking fresh river water from above the spill to the hatchery.
“They are bringing tanker trucks of water to us,” Shaw said. The water is being collected in a holding tank and further filtered through large carbon filters, also provided by the DEP.
This will help protect the 135,000 salmon eggs at the hatchery.
Some of the eggs have begun to hatch, Shaw said.
“We are not really sure how they are doing,” he said. “They appear to be a little less active but there have been a lot of people coming and going and they may be reacting to that. We are hoping they will build a tolerance to all that activity.”
“We are taking some tests and we are very concerned,” Shaw said. The well-being of dozens of two-year old salmon smolts is also unknown. The smolts were part of a two-year research project on the effects of acid rain on Maine’s fish.
Ed Logue of the DEP said the cleanup could easily continue for another week.
“This is a pretty significant spill,” he said, adding that a sheen is still clearly visible on the river. DEP has two contractors and 10 personnel on scene, he said, as well as three boats on the river.
As of Thursday morning, DEP had removed 206 tons of contaminated soil, 300 gallons of diesel fuel, 150 gallons of fuel and water mixture, and 10 cubic yards of absorbent pads.
He said officials from DMR, the Bureau of Sea Run Fisheries and Inland Fisheries and Wildlife are also at Columbia Falls and assessments are under way of any contamination of the salt marsh area near the mouth of the Pleasant River.
An impending spring rain or snow storm, expected Thursday into Friday, could be both bad and good, he said, as far as any flushing efforts go. DEP may have to pull some equipment off the cleanup and out of the river depending on the severity of the storm.
As far as the health of the fish at the hatchery, “Time will tell,” Shaw said.
Shaw said fans of the annual smelt fry held at Columbia Falls should know that all of the smelt for the fry were caught and frozen before the spill occurred.
The smelt fry draws hundreds of people and is scheduled for 5-9 p.m. Friday, April 22.
“We need everyone’s support more now than ever,” Shaw said.