Sturgeon River Updates: Clean Up Completed

February 21, 2018: Clean Up Completed at Sturgeon River

Cleanup and restoration operations have been completed at the site of a fuel spill at the Sturgeon River Bridge on Highway 41 south of Chassell, enabling the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) to restore traffic to its normal two lanes at noon Tuesday.

The spill occurred on Feb. 3 as the result of a four-vehicle accident. An estimated 4,000 gallons of gasoline and 1,500 gallons of diesel fuel were released onto the roadway, snow-covered bridge embankments, and frozen river below, necessitating an 18-day cleanup and restoration project involving the coordinated efforts of local, state, federal and private partners. Local officials credited the fast actions of first responders for limiting the spread of the fuel spill and minimizing environmental impacts.

“Considering the location of the spill in an environmentally sensitive area, it was great to see such a quick and coordinated response to a complex situation,” Houghton County Emergency Manager Chris Van Arsdale said. “In addition to environmental protection, public and worker safety was a priority for all parties throughout the work.”

Response agencies included Chassell Fire Department, Houghton County Office of Emergency Measures, Bootjack Fire and Rescue, Western Upper Peninsula Health Department (WUPHD), Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), local businesses and private environmental consultants.

During the course of the project, 6,200 tons of soil affected by the spill were removed and taken to a landfill, and 9,300 gallons of fuel-impacted water were pumped and taken off-site for treatment.

Following extensive soil removal, restoration of the bridge embankment was conducted under MDOT supervision using a combination of rock, soil and heavy-duty construction fabric, and a section of new guardrail was installed on the bridge. Adjacent yard and driveway areas were also restored with topsoil, mulch, grass seed, and gravel.

The public is advised that snowmobiling will not be allowed in the immediate vicinity because an area of open water will be maintained on the north side of the bridge through spring ice melt to enable monitoring and collection of any minor fuel sheen that may occur.

A long-term environmental monitoring plan is under development to assess surface water quality in the lower Sturgeon River as well as groundwater quality. Local officials stressed the importance of protecting public health and the environment during the incident and into the future.

“Our local health department worked with the EPA, DEQ and environmental contractors to monitor air and water quality during the cleanup to advise the public and workers on matters of health and safety,” said WUPHD Health Officer Kate Beer. “It is the role of public health workers to inform the public, and advocate for their ongoing health and safety.”

Another response partner, DEQ Project Manager Amy Keranen, summed up the feelings of the project team as she reflected on the successful wrap-up of operations. “This project has been an amazing example of federal, state, local and the private-sector partners addressing an emergency in very short order,” Keranen said. “Living in the quiet Keweenaw, we might think that things like this won’t happen around here. But this tanker spill presented an opportunity for us to see that locally we have the ability to conduct a top-notch environmental cleanup with local resources. Other than a specialized on-river crew from out of the area, all work on the project was completed by local companies and organizations from the Central and Western U.P.”

February 12, 2018: Soil removal nearly completed at Sturgeon River

Much of the fuel-impacted soil has been successfully removed from both sides of US-41 at the Sturgeon River Bridge, site of a 4-vehicle traffic accident involving a fuel tanker on February 3. Many truckloads of removed soil were transported to a landfill over the last week. As excavation continued on Sunday, those materials were temporarily stockpiled off site and will be trucked to the landfill during the week.

Since the work began nine days ago, more than 2,100 tons of material have been excavated and taken to the landfill. Another 1,200 tons are projected to be disposed of before the site is backfilled. In addition, 15,000 gallons of mixed fuel and water have been recovered for proper disposal.

Restoration of the bridge embankment is being conducted in accordance with Michigan Department of Transportation requirements. There were no visual observations of fuel or detections by field instruments during river assessment work and water sampling. Water samples are being analyzed to validate those observations.

Air quality monitoring and sampling continues under the direction of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for the immediate area, adjacent homes and in the community. This continues to be done to verify that there are no health and safety concerns for the community and workers.


Snowmobiling is not allowed in the immediate vicinity of the bridge due to the presence of open water and clean up equipment. Heavy truck traffic will continue over the next few days. Traffic control lights and traffic control personnel will be assisting in the movement of trucks and workers.

Drivers are reminded to be patient and to use extra caution if they need to drive along US-41 near the Sturgeon River.

February 9, 2018: Cleanup Progressing near Chassell

Progress continues on cleanup efforts at the site of last Saturday’s accident and fuel release at the Sturgeon River Bridge on US 41 south of Chassell.

The initial environmental assessment conducted downstream of the spill showed that the fuel appears to have been contained in the soil around the bridge and on the surface of the ice, thanks to fast action by the Chassell Township Fire Department and Houghton County Office of Emergency Management. Their placement of containment booms shortly after the accident successfully contained the released fuel.

Sheet pile has now been installed along the edge of the river and along the side of the bridge abutment to prevent fuel in the soil from entering the Sturgeon River. Most of the excavated and stockpiled soils have now been removed from the staging area. Excavation will be continuing along the bridge embankments. There again will be dump trucks coming in and out of the area during the day. In addition to the traffic control lights, traffic control personnel will be assisting in the movement of trucks and workers.

The public is advised that no snowmobiling is allowed in the immediate vicinity of the bridge due to the presence of open water and cleanup equipment.

Air quality monitoring and sampling continues under the direction of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for the immediate area, adjacent homes and in the community to verify that there are no health and safety concerns for the community and workers.

February 8, 2018: Cleanup Progressing near Chassell

Progress continues on cleanup work at the site of last Saturday’s accident and fuel release at the Sturgeon River Bridge on US 41 south of Chassell. Again today there will be dump trucks coming in and out of the area, removing impacted soil and bringing in clean fill material. In addition to the traffic control lights, personnel will be assisting in the safe movement of trucks and workers.

An area of impacted ice has been removed adjacent to the bridge. No snowmobiling is allowed in the immediate vicinity of the bridge due to the presence of open water and cleanup equipment.

Environmental assessment has been conducted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and environmental consultants at 42 locations along the Sturgeon River between the spill site and the mouth. These assessment points extend downstream from the bridge to the mouths of both branches of the river into Pike Bay and Portage Lake. There have not been any detections of fuel at any of the downriver assessment locations.

Air quality monitoring and sampling has continued under EPA direction for the immediate area and adjacent homes. Air quality monitoring also is being done near stockpiled materials and the excavation and loading areas to verify that there are no health and safety concerns for the community and workers.

Drivers are reminded to use extra caution if they need to drive along US-41 near the Sturgeon River.

February 7, 2018: Watch for Truck Traffic Near Chassell

Cleanup work is continuing today at the site of last Saturday’s accident and fuel release at the Sturgeon River Bridge on US 41 south of Chassell. Dump trucks will be coming in and out of the area, taking out impacted soil and bringing in clean fill material. In addition to the traffic control lights, traffic control personnel will be assisting in the movement of trucks and workers.

Drivers are reminded to use extra caution if they need to drive along US-41 near the Sturgeon River. Western U.P. Health Department has also has notified Chassell Township School about the increased truck traffic and activity.

February 6, 2018: Clean Up Efforts Continue

Local, state, and federal officials and private contractors are coordinating cleanup and environmental monitoring at the Sturgeon River Bridge on US 41 south of Chassell, site of last Saturday’s four-vehicle accident.

Cleanup crews are removing soil and snow impacted by the gasoline and diesel fuel release. Air quality monitoring and sampling has been conducted under the direction of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for the immediate area and adjacent homes. Air quality monitoring also is being done near stockpiled snow and soil to verify that there are no immediate health and safety concerns for the community and workers.

Arrangements are being made to transport impacted materials off site for disposal so that the area can be backfilled and guardrail replaced.

The health department also received the following statement from Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ):
“The DEQ has evaluated all municipal drinking water intakes in the vicinity and none are threatened by the release of petroleum products from the accident on US-41 near the Sturgeon River this past weekend. The DEQ is working with the company’s consultant and the Western U.P. Health Department to evaluate potential impacts to individual water supply wells in the vicinity of the accident.”

For more information regarding individual water wells, please contact WUPHD Environmental Health Director Tanya Rule at 906-482-7382, or by email at trule@wuphd.org. For more information regarding community water supply intakes, please contact Bob London, DEQ Drinking Water and Municipal Assistance Division (DWMAD) at 989-450-7834, or by email at londonr@michigan.gov.