MARSHALL — Local, state and federal agencies responding to the Enbridge oil spill announced Thursday that an additional 34 miles of the Kalamazoo River and the entire 2 miles of Morrow Lake are now open for recreational use.
Part of the area referred to as the Morrow Lake Delta is still closed. The closed portion will be identified by buoys. Those using the river should follow buoy restrictions for their own safety and the safety of workers still conducting cleanup.
Boaters will have to portage between a canoe launch on the delta and the River Oaks boat launch.
The newly opened portion stretches from Saylor’s Landing near 15 Mile Road and the Kalamazoo River in Calhoun County to Morrow Lake. This follows the April 18 opening of a nearly three-mile portion from Perrin Dam in Marshall to Saylor’s Landing, a new river access site near 15 Mile Road and the Kalamazoo River.
“The long wait to open most of the oil-damaged Kalamazoo River is now over — just in time for summer,” said Susan Hedman, EPA Region 5 Administrator. “EPA will remain in the Marshall area until the cleanup is completed.”
“I am pleased that we are finally able to open a larger stretch of the river for people to use,” said James Rutherford, Calhoun County Public Health Director. “We know that people have been eager to get back and start using the river again.”
Linda Vail, director of the Kalamazoo County Health and Community Services Department, agreed.
“People want to use the river and riverside parks for recreation,” Vail said. “We want to make sure that they have a safe place to have fun.”
Officials said people could still see sheen or flecks of oil in the river, even after this new portion is open. Sheen appears as a filmy or rainbow-like substance floating on the water surface.
Not all sheen is caused by oil. There are two general sources of sheen – petroleum-based and natural. On the Kalamazoo River, some sheen may come from the Enbridge oil spill, while some sheen may be caused by traditional sources such as motorboats and gasoline or motor oil that is washed away from parking lots and into the river system.
Natural sheen can also occur by decomposition of vegetation. According to the U.S. Geologic Survey, oil-like films and rock coatings are often made by bacteria reacting to iron and manganese in the water. Both types of sheen appear similar floating on water.
According to recent Public Health Assessments, the Michigan Department of Community Health has concluded that contact with the submerged oil will not cause long-term health effects. At the same time, contact with the submerged oil may cause temporary effects, such as skin irritation.
Both county health departments and the Michigan Department of Community Health don’t expect any long-term health effects from people touching residual oil on the river or in the sediment, but there could be temporary effects such as skin irritation.
The health agencies recommend washing skin and clothes with plain soap and water as soon as possible after coming in contact with oil. Stations with cleaning wipes have been set up near kiosks at launch stations to clean skin and boating equipment.
Enbridge will continue to perform oil recovery, even after openings occur, under the direction of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.
People may encounter ongoing work activities at some locations along the river. They should use caution when involved in recreation around these work zones. They should obey all buoys and signage, and use only marked, public areas for accessing the river, and stay off private property.
While the cleanup is in its final stages, EPA and MDEQ are committed to remaining on-site as long as necessary to protect human health and the environment.
The river was closed from Perrin Dam in Calhoun County to the Morrow Lake Dam in Kalamazoo County in July 2010, after an Enbridge pipeline ruptured discharging oil into Talmadge Creek and the Kalamazoo River. Enbridge has estimated that it discharged 843,444 gallons of oil during this pipeline spill. The cause of the pipeline rupture is under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board.