Old tug boat spills oil into Petaluma River

September 6, 2010 11:58:29 PM PDT
A salvage operation to disassemble an old tug boat led to an oil spill in Petaluma Monday.

Kayakers at the Petaluma Marina were complaining that they had to dodge huge tar balls earlier Monday, but by Monday night most of the slick has broken up.

Globs of oil floated out toward the bay at low tide around 6 p.m. They were the remnants of a large oil slick that stretched from shore to shore and moved through the slough around 8 a.m.

"There were some rowers that had to shout to avoid the area on the embankment," Petaluma resident Sheri Khlebowski said.

The Calif. Department of Fish and Game says an old tugboat was being chopped up for scrap metal and it leaked 200-600 gallons of oil.

The owner of the tug apparently knew it was leaking because he already had an oil boom around it, but the Department of Fish and Game says Monday morning's flood tide swept the oil out into the estuary creating a slick about 2.5 miles long.

Residents say these are extremely sensitive wetlands.

"Last week I saw a couple of river otters, usually it's a few shore birds," Petaluma resident Clifford Trickel said.

Four booms were placed in front of creeks to keep oil from creeping into the downtown area where boaters float through town and stop off to shop or dine.

"It was supposed to be a big day and all of a sudden around 11:30 we had the Coast Guard and had all the boats evacuated," Jaime Marcalo said.

A Department of Fish and Game biologist did not find any dead wildlife or major deposits of oil. But environmentalists say the tides will likely continue to slosh it around in the estuary.

"It comes in and out like a washing machine twice a day and will stick around until the sun and the air finally break it down," Dave Yearsley, founder of the Friends of Petaluma River, said.

Monday night a vacuum truck was busy cleaning up the waters around the tug boat.

The Department of Fish and Game says it wants to know how long the salvage operation was going on before the public found out it was leaking oil.


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