An oil spill at the top of Young Road last weekend was caught by neighbors who smelled fuel in the air.

Responders are working on dredging up the fuel and mitigating damages.

Responders are cleaning up an oil spill after the line to a 500-gallon tank of heating fuel ruptured on Young Road.

Neighbors downhill started smelling diesel in the air over the weekend.

“The tank of heating fuel was dispersed onto the ground. Because the building was on Young Road, which is a fairly steep hill,  the material all just ran down the hill,” says Debra Schnabel, Haines Borough Manager.

Local employees of the Delta Western fuel company responded to the spill, she says. The owner of the tank couldn’t report the spill: he was on vacation in Mexico.

“I’m told he had a 500-gallon tank. I have no idea how full it was.”

Delta Western lay out oil absorbent booms and set up a system to filter run-off water. Heavy rains in the last few days likely contributed to spreading the oil, Schnabel says.

David Pikul works on spill response for Alaska’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). Pikul says by the time Delta Western got to the house, the tank was essentially empty.

“The impacts to the environment have already occurred, and it shouldn’t get any worse. It’s just a matter of cleaning up what’s already in the ground,” he says.

Alaska law requires notifying DEC whenever there’s a spill. Because this one happened over the weekend and Monday was a state holiday, DEC said they didn’t hear about it until someone at the Chilkat Valley News called for information yesterday, effectively reporting it.

Even if DEC had known earlier, they couldn’t have prevented the spill. Both Borough and DEC officials said they thought it was the result of the week’s rapid weather changes: the tank was sound, but the frozen fuel line ruptured when it thawed.

Schnabel says neither the Borough nor DEC employees in town are spill responders.

“The only people that we’re aware of that are certified to deal with clean-up activities with oil spills happen to be the employees of Delta Western.”

Sending DEC team to Haines to help clean up would be expensive, Pikul says, and probably wouldn’t happen unless a spill was egregious. He complimented the company’s initiative.

“When Delta Western was notified about this, they were exemplary in their actions.  They were, in my mind, responding as a service to the community because they had the means and the resources to do something. And they did a great job.”

DEC said the fuel company hadn’t reported on any downstream impacts of the spill. They said it was too soon to tell what any long-term environmental impacts might be.

Delta Western wasn’t available to comment.