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Timeline unknown for Salt Lake oil spill cleanup



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SALT LAKE CITY -- A massive cleanup effort is underway across the Salt Lake Valley after a broken oil pipeline sent nearly 33,000 gallons of crude oil spilling into local creeks, ponds and rivers.

On a beautiful day like Monday, the grounds of the Garden Park Ward -- a historic LDS meetinghouse and garden in the Yalecrest District of Salt Lake City -- are usually filled with photographers.

But the few photographers around may have some extra photo editing to do.

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"There's a bunch of workers over there and crude oil in the water," said photographer Ashlee Swensen.

"The oil spill in the Gulf, it seems so far away," said resident Dolly Close. "And then all of the sudden it's right in your neighborhood, in your own backyard."

Cleanup is far from over along Red Butte Creek as Chevron workers wade through the water, laying down absorbent pads to soak up the dark oil running all the way down through the Jordan River.

"Yesterday we began a recognizance of the areas damaged, and then determined the least invasive method for cleaning up the oil," said Chevron refinery manager Mark Sullivan.

Cleanup efforts updated

Areas affected by the oil slick have been broken down into 18 sections for cleanup. Resources are doubled right now along the Jordan River to prevent the oil from getting to the Great Salt Lake. Sullivan said so far those efforts have been successful. The company praised for quick action to help contain the oil leak in Red Butte Creek says it was all in a day's work.

Big D Construction president and COO Rob Moore says his crews are ready for just about anything.

"Large projects at times have these kind of conditions," he said. "Not what we're seeing here, but these kind of conditions where we have to contain hazardous materials. So our superintendents are trained to do that."

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They happened to be working up at the University of Utah on a job site when the fire department asked if they could help with a backhoe.

The crew got right to work building a berm to stem the flow.

Leak contained, but how long will effects linger?

Chevron assured residents the leak has been closed off and that this is not a common occurrence.

The Division of Water Quality took samples from nine different sites around the Salt Lake Valley where possible contamination may have occurred. Results are expected to be posted on DWQ's website later Monday afternoon. They also will be available at Monday night's town hall meeting, scheduled for 7 p.m. at Clayton Middle School, located at 1407 S. 1900 East.

At a press conference Monday afternoon, Chevron representatives said they've doubled the amount of resources working on the spill and will pay for all of the cleanup -- however, they wouldn't speculate as to a timeline.

But according to the Utah Rivers Council, how long it takes has much to do with how well the areas are cleaned.

"It could be millions and millions and millions of dollars to actually clean it up," said Zach Frankel. "There's sucking all of the oil out of Liberty Park pond, but that's only just one piece of it. How much of that oil has gotten into the ground? How much of it is being absorbed by plants?"

And perhaps those needing the most urgent attention are also the most helpless -- geese, ducks, fish and other wildlife, coated in oil, some gasping for air.

Nearly 300 birds have been rescued and treated so far.

"Some of them are in quite poor condition, if they have quite a bit of oil on their feathers," said Shawni Larrabee with Salt Lake County Animal Services. "Their condition is directly related to how much oil they have."

Chevron wants to remind residents and citizens not to clean up oil on their own. The company says the best thing to do is file a complaint with them, and they will get crews out to clean it up.

Crews have already been spotted all over the damaged areas Monday.

E-mail: jstagg@ksl.com

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Jennifer Stagg

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