Cleanup begins after asphalt spill on 199; Friends of Del Norte calls for restricting transport of chemicals through Smith River Canyon | Wild Rivers Outpost
Jessica Cejnar Andrews / Today @ 2:42 p.m. / Emergencies, Environment, Roads
Cleanup begins after asphalt spill on 199; Friends of Del Norte call for restriction of chemical transport in Smith River Canyon
• Klamath Falls man in police custody suspected of hit-and-run following yesterday’s tar spill on US 199
As Six Rivers National Forest Service staff assess damage from Thursday’s asphalt spill on US 199, representatives from a local conservation group say they will likely advocate for a policy that restricts transportation of chemicals through the Smith River Canyon.
About 400 gallons of asphalt binder hit the Smith River when the trailer carrying it overturned Thursday at mile marker 10.65 between Hiouchi and Gasquet, according to a Six Rivers National Forest spokeswoman.
National Forest Service personnel were beginning cleanup efforts on Monday, she told the Wild Rivers Outpost. The cleanup should take about a month, she said.
“When it hit the river, it went solid,” she said. “But it’s still 400 (gallons) of debris that’s in the river.”
Thursday’s collision could have been much worse, both for motorists and for the Smith River, said Don Gillespie, president of Friends of Del Norte. However, he said, the conservation organization is concerned about protecting water quality, pointing out that the river provides drinking water to many communities.
For the past eight years, Friends of Del Norte has been involved in litigation to halt a plan to widen US 199 and State Route 197 in three locations to make it safer for trucks meeting the standard of 1982 Surface Transportation Assistance Act (STAA).
But the truck involved in Thursday’s crash was a California legal truck, not a STAA-approved truck, Gillespie said. The driver charged with driving under the influence may make it difficult for Caltrans and other agencies to hear Friends of Del Norte’s concerns about safety on US 199, he said.
“It has happened before; that’s our main concern,” Gillespie told the Wild Rivers Outpost. “A good driver—and I’ve seen these guys go for years—a good driver should have hauled that load through the canyon, no problem. But we’re just worried.
Gillespie said Friends of Del Norte wanted to at least let the California Highway Patrol know what chemicals are going down US 199 and potentially limit the number of tankers going through Smith River Canyon.
Thursday’s collision occurred near the 10.65 mile marker between Hiouchi and Gasquet and involved a 2001 3-axle Freightliner that had a damaged rear tire and was carrying a double trailer, according to the California Highway Patrol.
At approximately 10:43 a.m., the vehicle drifted to the right and struck a utility pole, dragging power lines across the roadway. Further south, one of the trailers broke loose and overturned, spilling approximately 2,000 gallons of asphalt binder onto the road.
The truck driver, Raoul HD Payette Jr, continued on his way, according to the CHP. Officers arrested him in Hiouchi around 11:02 a.m. Thursday and charged him with driving under the influence and a hit and run. Payette was released from Del Norte County Jail on Thursday.
On April 30, Friends of Del Norte representative Joe Gillespie took to Facebook to air the group’s concerns.
“We are outraged and will call for greater restrictions for the transport of toxic substances along the Smith River,” Joe Gillespie said. “Many serious questions come to mind: Is there a list of all toxic load transports kept by the CHP so that they and the public know when this is happening? Are these loads checked somewhere before transport by the CHP? And the drivers? How can we ensure that toxic loads are transported more safely? Can they be banned from Highway 199? Should they be? »
One community that was affected by the asphalt spill was Hiouchi, which is served by the Big Rock Community Service District. Big Rock CSD, which supplies water to residents of Hiouchi, shut down the system and decided to keep it on for a few hours even though it learned the spill hadn’t affected water quality, said said board member Joe “Hank” Akin. Outpost.
However, Akin said, most customers shouldn’t have seen a difference in their water service and probably wouldn’t have experienced the impact if it hadn’t been reported on the radio.
“We have a reservoir with a large enough capacity that we could have gone a day or two without having to turn (the pumps) back on depending on the water usage,” Akin said. “We were reasonably safe.”
Thursday’s crash shut down US 199 for several hours while the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Six Rivers National Forest, Caltrans, CHP, CalOES and the Del Norte Office of Emergency Services attempted to contain the spill. The freeway fully reopened around 5:12 p.m. Thursday.