Fisherman spots oil slick

Portion of McKenzie River closed indefinitely

Sterling Gonzalez // The Torch
The Mckenzie River, which runs through Eugene and Springfield, was exposed to approximately 200 gallons of hydraulic oil on March 13. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife is conducting an ongoing investigation to determine the severity of the impact the oil has on local wildlife.

On Tuesday, March 13, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality and other state agencies responded to an oil spill in the McKenzie River from Hayden Bridge in Springfield to Armitage Park in Eugene.

Approximately 200 gallons of hydraulic oil was discharged from a pipe at the International Paper plant in Springfield, according to ODEQ. The oil sheen on the McKenzie River was reported to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and Oregon Emergency Response on March 13.

Thanks to emergency responders, ODEQ’s statement added, the plant’s pipe leakage has been stopped and oil-absorbent materials have been placed in the river to remove the spill from the water.

The International Paper plant is about 800 feet from the area near Hayden Bridge that the Eugene Water & Electric Board uses to provide drinking water to consumers, ODEQ states.

EWEB Commissioner John Brown said Eugene’s drinking water supply has not been affected, however.

He added that EWEB, which implements the McKenzie Watershed Emergency Response system, has contributed to the cleanup process, such as by using booms to absorb oil in the river, and continues to monitor the progress of the cleanup.

Aaron Helfrich, who helps manage a fishing and rafting business that often uses the McKenzie River, reported the spill while he was fishing with a friend.

“It was detrimental to the health of the river ecosystem, from aquatic insects, fish and mammals,” he said regarding his decision to report the oil sheen.

Despite the progress of cleaning up the oil spill, Helfrich is still concerned that another incident like this may happen again and feels that “[International Paper] took too long to react.”

The mill’s manager, Kally Hodgson, apologized in an email via a communications specialist “for the disruption to the waterway and the community.”

“We are grateful to the local authorities, our team members and community partners who have helped us work through this event,” Hodgson said. “We understand that healthy watersheds are essential to the community and we remain committed to operating safely and in an environmentally responsible manner.”

The area of the McKenzie River between Hayden Bridge and Armitage Park has been open to the public since March 30. EWEB will continue providing updates via social media about the cleanup progress, the safety of drinking water in Eugene and the accessibility of the McKenzie River.