Local farmer speaks out on river spill

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 1, 2006

Last Thursday some petroleum substance was spilled into the Alabama River at a point upstream from Selma. Shortly before 8 p.m. I received a call from Mike Stokes of the SFD informing me that there apparently (I stress the word “apparently”) had been a spill from one of my irrigation pump sites on the Alabama. After arriving at the city marina,

I was informed that there was a very wide streak several miles long of some substance moving downriver towards Selma.

I informed haz mat personnel that if the substance was from one of my sites then it would have to be diesel fuel.

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In route to my pump sites I called my farm manager Bryant Traylor. He informed me that he had received a call late that afternoon from an IP employee, Bud Mott, saying that there was something in the river and it was not from them.

Bryant, who was in Montgomery, immediately contacted a key employee, Arturo Hernandez, and told him to go check our three pump sites.

At the first site he found a small cut on a one inch fuel line and repaired it immediately, seeing no further spills there he went to the other two sites and found no further spills.

He reported back to Bryant, and Bryant deemed the matter as needing no further attention until Friday morning.

When I arrived at the site in question, the night was already pitch black dark.

I did see that some fuel had spilled and run towards the river and at that moment I was afraid that Arturo had examined the situation incorrectly.

At the pump site in question, we have a tanker trailer that holds the fuel supply for three diesel pumps.

It could hold approximately 8,000 to 9,000 gallons if full, but it is never full.

As a safety precaution, we run the supply low (down to about 200 to 400 gallons) before replenishing it with an additional 1,600 gallons.

So, in no event is there ever more than 2,000 (400 + 1,600) gallons in the tank.

From there a 100-foot fuel line delivers it from its high bluff down to a double lined 100 gallon holding tank that supplies the three pumps.

That 100 foot line had the cut in it, but there was an electic solenoid controlled valve at the top of the line as another safeguard.

That night, I feared that either the solenoid or the holding tank had failed.

Given the amount of irrigation which had been done since the last 1,600 gallon fill-up, we knew that the tanker was pretty low.

In fact it had been about time to get another 1,600 gallons.

So, I informed the parties of these facts and concluded that if the spill was from us then it was likely either a 100 gallon spill or a 200-400 gallon spill, but in no case should be more than 500 gallons.

That was reported by me in the “fog of war.”

The very first thing Bryant did Friday morning was to go down to the pump site and check out the situation.

The holding tank was full, so it had not spilled.

The tanker had the expected level of fuel in it.

The solenoid was checked and it had not failed.

I computed the math of how much fuel was in a 100 foot long, one inch diameter line.

The answer was 4.08 gallons.

Another Mexican employee reported an incident he had seen at about 1:30 p.m. Thursday afternoon.

He had been filling up the fuel tank at a different pump site farther upstream and had seen the substance moving downriver at that time.

This validated for me that the spill had not come from us.

In closing, we did have a small spill of about four gallons. I want to clear my good name with the public on this issue and reassure everyone that I, my family, and my employees all seek to do what is environmentally proper for the Alabama River.