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Willard Bay Spill Money Earmarked for Eco-Projects

Judy Fahys

Chevron Pipe Line Co.’s cleanup crews have packed up and moved out of the Willard Bay State Park. They occupied the parking lot for much of last year after a split pipe leaked more than 20,000 gallons of diesel fuel into the nearby wetlands.

But, as the park’s fans plan a May 24 party to celebrate its reopening, state officials are asking for advice on how to spend a big impact fund. But there’s still more left to do.

John Whitehead is assistant director of the Utah Division of Water Quality. His office has to divvy up money the state ordered Chevron to pay as part of a $5.6 million settlement.

“If there was ever a silver lining to an event like the Willard Bay diesel spill,” he said, “it would be mitigation projects like these that really benefit the public beyond any sort of clean up action.”

DWQ has fielded more than 80 proposals. The projects add up to $30 million. But he’s got just $3.1 million to spend.

Microbiologist Betsy Kleba is part of a team from Westminster College that is asking for nearly $110,000 for testing what’s called “bioremediation.” The technique amounts to deploying mini-cleanup crews to remove petroleum without chemicals or scrubbing.

“We are trying to utilize the tiniest of life forms that are living in the greater Salt Lake ecosystem,” she says, “to use them as little machines to clean up pollutants.”

Other universities, government agencies and private groups are also seeking funding. Sheida Hajarian is lead botanist for the Desert Water Gardens plant nursery in Murray. Her group proposes restoring wetlands near the North Marina with native plants. It’s a way to revitalize habitat for beavers, birds and everything else that relies on the marshes.

“Mother Nature uses plants to detoxify, to cycle nutrients,” she says. “And we are going to have to just reintroduce that diversity that has historically been in the Willard Bay surrounding areas.”

A three-person panel is sifting through the funding requests. But the Division of Water Quality also wants public input. The agency lists all of the proposals on its web page, and it has a form for anyone who wants a say which projects should get the impact money.

Judy Fahys has reported in Utah for two decades, covering politics, government and business before taking on environmental issues. She loves covering Utah, where petroleum-pipeline spills, the nation’s radioactive legacy and other types of pollution provide endless fodder for stories. Previously, she worked for the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah, and reported on the nation’s capital for States News Service and the Scripps League newspaper chain. She is a longtime member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She also spent an academic year as a research fellow in the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In her spare time, she enjoys being out in the environment, especially hiking, gardening and watercolor painting.
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