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Officials: Fallout from gas tanker spill on Hwy. 1 appears limited

Recent rain on the Sonoma Coast appears to have helped mitigate fallout from an overturned tanker that leaked an estimated 1,200 gallons of gasoline off Highway 1 onto the surrounding landscape and into the ocean near Jenner on Sunday morning.

Though fuel did reach the surf, it got there in a fast-moving seasonal creek swollen with runoff that would have diluted the substance even before it reached the roiling ocean, said Monte Rio Fire Chief Steve Baxman, who responded to the accident.

Gasoline also evaporates more quickly than diesel or other oily fuels that can leave a slick or sheen on the ocean surface, said Alexia Retallack, a spokeswoman for the California Office of Spill Prevention and Response.

The result is there appeared to be no impact on wildlife from the incident, though work crews and agency personnel remained on the scene Monday excavating fuel-soaked soils and ensuring no further contamination occurred, Retallack said.

That could take a few days, as any contaminated earth near or beneath the roadbed needs to be moved very carefully to prevent seepage or spread, she said.

The soil then needs to be replaced with clean material, she said. Caltrans was expected to have to replace part of the highway, as well, since gasoline degrades asphalt, authorities said.

Traffic on Highway 1 was to be reduced to one-way controlled traffic through the area in the meantime, the CHP said.

But despite the continued inconvenience to motorists and local residents, who endured complete closure of the highway for nearly 20 hours Sunday, there was good news in the spill’s limited residual effects on- and offshore.

“We don’t have any wildlife impacts that have been reported right now,” Retallack said. “There was some vegetation ?that got material on it. But with the heavy rains, it got flushed very quickly.”

The spill occurred shortly after 8 a.m. Sunday when a northbound trucker driving a fully loaded fuel transport rig entered a slight left curve near Meyer’s Grade Road and allowed his right front tire to drop onto the earthen shoulder, according to the CHP.

The driver, Terry Lippolis, of Grants Pass, Ore., managed to get the truck back on the road, the CHP said. But he was towing a tank trailer and its tires slid into a culvert, causing the entire rig to overturn.

Lippolis’ total load was 8,800 gallons, but only one compartment in the rear tank ruptured, limiting the spill to 1,200 gallons, authorities said.

A host of emergency personnel responded, including CHP, Cal Fire, Monte Rio and Russian River fire personnel, hazardous materials teams from Sonoma and Napa counties, California State Parks personnel, the U.S. Coast Guard, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, and a representative from the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services.

Baxman, who was among the initial responders, said it was pouring rain as crews worked to contain the spilled fuel. Much of it flowed into a steep ditch alongside the highway about 30 feet above a culvert under the road. The culvert channeled the fuel directly into the fast-moving stream, down about 200 feet to the beach and another 100 or 200 feet into the ocean.

“That seasonal creek is flowing pretty hot and heavy ‘cause it was raining like heck,” Baxman said. “You may find traces in the ocean, but it’s going to be so little. And then the ocean was a little rough, so that’s going to chop it up.”

Retallack said local Fish and Wildlife wardens collaborated with a member of the agency’s Office of Spill Prevention and Response soon after the event to follow spill protocols. She said a good deal of tainted soil was removed by hand Sunday.

She said she did not expect any long-term impacts like fuel along the shore or ill effects for birds or other wildlife.

“They’ll be looking for that,” she said of the wardens, “but they (any wildlife) would have had to have had immediate ?contact and exposure. And we had the storms, we had a lot of water, we had a lot of things that would have affected how much went where and how diluted it was.

“At this point in time, the only thing they are dealing with is the soil,” she said.

You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan at 521-5249 or mary.callahan@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @MaryCallahanB.

Mary Callahan

Environment and Climate Change, The Press Democrat

I am in awe of the breathtaking nature here in Sonoma County and am so grateful to live in this spectacular region we call home. I am amazed, too, by the expertise in our community and by the commitment to protecting the land, its waterways, its wildlife and its residents. My goal is to improve understanding of the issues, to find hope and to help all of us navigate the future of our environment. 

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