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SALT LAKE CITY - Nearly six months ago, a massive spill from a Chevron pipeline sent thousands of gallons of oil into Salt Lake's Red Butte Creek. Now, the cleanup moves into a new phase specifically aimed at restoring the lake at Liberty Park.
Much of the oil from the spill ended up in the 7-acre lake. For months, the area has been inaccessible to the public -- closed off behind chain link fence.
But starting Monday, Chevron crews will begin digging out tons of residual material from the lake and essentially replace its entire concrete liner.
We think we're going to be leaving this lake in a much better condition than when we found it.
"We want people to be comfortable that the sediment is clean," said Renee Zollinger, Salt Lake City's environmental program manager. "We know that citizens are worried about the lake. They're worried about their exposure. It's hard to imagine that any amount of sampling we could do to show it was clean would be enough to test every little spot."
First, the lake will be drained. Then crews will begin hauling 4,500 tons of sediment to landfills.
"We'll be checking that to see that there are no residual concerns there about any pollution," said Chevron spokesman Dan Johnson. "We think they're minimal in any case at this point in time."
Concrete will be removed down to the cobblestones and replaced with new footings. An apron will be added as well.
"We think we're going to be leaving this lake in a much better condition than when we found it," Johnson said.
The damage is real and present and will be here for decades. There are no warning signs anywhere on the creek about the continued pollution that is just below the surface. Children play in this thing, pregnant women walk here, pets drink here.
Park patrons say they're pleased, but have lingering concerns.
"I think that's a good plan, but will that prevent another occurrence should something happen?" said Taylorsville resident Victoria Bailey.
Peter Hayes is a homeowner along Red Butte Creek and a prominent cleanup critic. He says Sunday he dug just below the surface in the creek and still finds oil there.
"This was three inches below the surface, three inches," he said. "When we get high-water events here like in all the rains it smells like crude oil because it is crude oil."
Hayes worries about property value losses, protection from future spills, and lingering pollution.
"The damage is real and present and will be here for decades," he said. "There are no warning signs anywhere on the creek about the continued pollution that is just below the surface. Children play in this thing, pregnant women walk here, pets drink here."
But Chevron insists cleanup efforts have been serious and successful.
"I think there are a number of positive signs now that things are much, much better," Johnson said.
Johnson says about 100 property owners filed damage claims and 29 have not yet been resolved. Meantime, work at the Liberty Park lake is expected to be done by next spring.