DEC responds to truck crash on Anchor River

The driver of a truck that rolled over on the Nikolaevsk Road last Monday failed to report the crash and a possible fuel spill to Alaska State Troopers and the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation.

According to DEC, a citizen reported the crash to DEC about 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 5. Troopers also reported a spill to DEC about the same time. Troopers received no reports of injuries, said Tim Despain, a trooper spokesperson. Alcohol is not believed to be a factor in the crash, Despain wrote in an email.

AK Trucking of Soldotna operated the truck under a contract from Home Depot and the driver and a helper had been delivering appliances. Conley Croom, owner of AK Trucking, said in a phone interview that he heard about the crash from the driver, a man in his 20s, sometime between 1 and 4 p.m. Monday afternoon. Croom apologized for not reporting the crash, but said his employees “walked away from a nasty, terrible accident,” and had more immediate concerns.

“My driver was shaken up. His first thought was not ‘I had better call the troopers and report this.’ His first thought was to call the boss, maybe to ‘call my family and say I was OK,’” Croom said.

The crash happened on Monday afternoon, Dec. 4, near the North Fork of the Anchor River by a culvert on the road from the North Fork Road to the village of Nikolaevsk. Citing an ongoing investigation, Despain said in an email last Friday that troopers were not releasing the driver’s name. The truck rolled off the south bank of the river and came to a stop near a culvert. In a photo provided by Cook Inletkeeper, the crash heavily damaged the Freightliner, and cargo spilled out of the truck and into the river.

Croom said AK Trucking responded early Monday evening to start cleaning up the crash site. Buddy’s Towing pulled the truck out of the stream ravine.

“The last thing we want is a truck with its engine running in the middle of the river,” Croom said.

It took about 12 hours and $10,000 to get the wreck out, Croom said. Workers with Buddy’s Towing went back later to remove appliances and other debris from the crash site.

A DEC spill responder went to the crash site early Wednesday afternoon, Dec. 6, said DEC spokesperson Candice Barber in an email. She said the responder noticed the odor of diesel fuel, but did not see a visible sheen in the river. The responder also saw discolored snow and ice near a culvert and collected the stained ice and snow and also picked up debris, mostly plastic foam. Based on a conversation with Croom, DEC estimated about 15 gallons had spilled, Barber said.

Croom said the Freightliner has a 50-gallon tank and had been nearing the end of a delivery route. Typically when that truck returned to Soldotna, it had about a quarter-tank of fuel, he said. He told DEC that if diesel had spilled it would have been about 15 gallons. Croom said he had not seen the Freightliner and did not know if its fuel tank had broken.

The U.S. Coast Guard, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, and the Kenai Peninsula Borough also were notified of the crash and spill, Barber said.

Cook Inletkeeper, a Kenai Peninsula environmental watch-dog organization based in Homer, said the response should have been “all hands on deck.”

“When your truck dumps into the Anchor River, you report it,” said Bob Shavelson, advocacy director for Cook Inletkeeper. “You start cleaning it up immediately.”

Croom said that’s what AK Trucking did.

“We’re a responsible company. We got in there, got everything taken care of. It was an unfortunate circumstance,” he said. “If you make a mess, you clean it up. We cleaned it up. It was tragic for everybody involved.”

In an email on Dec. 7 to the DEC that Shavelson copied to the Homer News, Shavelson urged the DEC to take a rapid response and to use money from a spill response fund. He noted the Anchor River is an anadromous water body and salmon stream.

“As we know from the research after the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon concentrations as low as 1 ppb (parts per billion) have been shown to cause increased mortality and development problems in juvenile salmon, so time is of the essence,” Shavelson wrote DEC.

In an email, Barber of the DEC said the state has a response fund, but it’s reserved for larger spills.

“In this incident, the state might seek to recover our response costs directly through the responsible party,” Barber wrote.

Barber said that under Alaska law, drivers have a responsibility to report to DEC of a discharge or release of oil to water as well as a release of oil in excess of 55 gallons to land. In most instances, troopers also report crashes resulting in spills to DEC, she said. Croom said when he talked to troopers on Monday, he thought the accident had already been reported. In his conversation with the trooper, Croom said he felt the trooper’s main concern was that the driver and passenger were safe.

“They want to make sure they’re safe. That’s what the troopers want — exactly what I was looking for, too,” he said.

DEC officials met with Croom on Thursday, Dec. 7, and reported that he had been compliant with officials and said he would be willing to address any remaining clean-up. Croom confirmed that.

“We cooperated 100 percent with the troopers, 100 percent with the DEC,” he said. “We’re going to continue to make sure everything’s taken care of.”

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