Cleanup complete; Liberty Park pond to open soon

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SALT LAKE CITY -- Salt Lake City's worst oil spill in history still stings for the people most directly affected, but there are substantial signs of restoration.

A hole in a Chevron pipeline spilled 33,000 gallons of crude oil into Red Butte Creek last June. Much of that flowed into the pond at Liberty Park, which was fenced off shortly after the spill.

Since that time, Chevron spent $2 million to scoop 10,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment out of the pond and restore it.

The company says the cleanup is complete. The city is satisfied, and the fence will come down before May 14. But is the public satisfied?

"This basically has been a big detriment to the community," said SLC Public Utilities Director Jeff Niermeyer.

Thousands of gallons of crude oil spilled into Red Butte Creek and contaminated the pond in Liberty Park, which has been closed for nearly a year.
Thousands of gallons of crude oil spilled into Red Butte Creek and contaminated the pond in Liberty Park, which has been closed for nearly a year.

Investigators concluded that a fierce summer storm blew a tree into an overhead power line, resulting in an electrical arc that burned a hole in the 10-inch in diameter pipeline about the size of a quarter.

The massive leak of spilled crude oil went undetected until the next morning, contaminating Red Butte Creek and flowing into the pond at Liberty Park. A segment of the Jordan River was also shut down to the public for several weeks while cleanup efforts continued.

Roughly a quarter of the park was closed to the public for nearly an entire year.

Niermeyer worked closely with Chevron throughout the cleanup. Restoration work continues along the creek and in Liberty Park, and he says crews have replaced the concrete wall in the pond and are now in the home stretch.

"There's going to be some confirmation sampling on some water quality in the next week, but everything is looking good," Niermeyer said. "Essentially the cleanup is all done, and now what we're doing is the restoration from the damage that was done during the cleanup."

Initially, Chevron was supposed to finish April 1, but wet weather slowed progress. That disappointed the city, but they insisted the work be done properly.

Salt Lake City resident Marina Riedel lives along the creek and has seen the damage -- and cleanup -- firsthand. "I feel like they've done everything that they probably should do to clean it up but, it's still not perfect," she said.

Upstream, Riedel is still trying to assess the long-term damage to the creek in her yard.

"Oh my gosh, it was unbelievable. This was like thick, black, viscous, like something from the opening of the Beverly Hillbillies. On days like today when spring runoff is really running down the corridor, it stirs up the smell of oil," she said. "When we're down cleaning the pond out we'll still find pockets where rainbows of oil will come out for a long time. The wildlife is pretty much gone."

Riedel feels something has been taken from the community, but believes little more can be done.



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Jed Boal


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