Another clueless, airhead model

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

From One Disaster to Another

I was in Angleton for four days after returning from Louisiana when I received a request for help with the damage assessment of an oil spill in the Kalamazoo River. A pipe belonging to Enbridge Energy Company had ruptured and discharged ~ 900,000 gallons of oil into the river and adjacent creeks. My job was to lead a botanical team to identify the flora communities before the Enbridge crews came in to remove the oiled vegetation and soil.

I was familiar with ~ 50% of the flora in the area and it took another week before becoming fairly proficient in the identification of the rest. There was little time to botanize as the crews were coming in fast so this was a rapid assessment dozens of sites along the river. In the morning we boarded either small boats or airboats and covered over 15 miles of riverine plant communities within 6 days. We were required to wear a safety helmet, steel toe rubber boots and oil resistant coveralls at least to the waste. My coveralls were made by Dupont – Tyvek material that was barely resistant to oil staining but unlike the cleaning crews with their Tychem suits (imagine a suit made of the material of a plastic canvas sheet) we didn't have to pick up oil vegetation or use vacuums to suck up pools of oil so rubber gloves were not necessary.

At each site we moved into the center of a community to quickly assess the dominant canopy, mid-story and ground cover by their percent occupation – their "cover". Species were noted as was a judgment call on the impact of the oil. Also noted was the extent of highly invasive non-native plants such as purple loose strife and canary reed grass. We finished each site with photographs and a GPS point. We would often encounter dense stands of wood nettle and when the unavoidable stinging occurred we were fortunate to have Jewelweed in abundance for its sting reliving sap. 

No poisonous snakes and no other animals except turtles, frogs and birds; all of which were captured and cleaned of oil. Too much crew and boat traffic had scared away the rest of the animals. After 9 days I was back home.


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