Dexter Dam oil spill response exercise


Dustin Bengston: “Our operations, 24/7 job
doesn’t stop because we have an incident.” How many people?… Brian Wilson: “Because of our aging infrastructure
we do have a potential for those units and those pieces of equipment to fail.” How much equipment?… Brain Wilson: “I don’t have six, seven hundred
feet of hard boom on that trailer to make this happen today.” What would it take to respond to nearly six
thousand gallons of oil spilling into a fast flowing river? More than 30 people from nearly a dozen agencies
gathered on the shore of the Middle Fork Willamette River to get some answers. Dustin Bengston: “We want to understand our
limitations and needs in spill response and be able to establish plans that are realistic
and effective in the event of an emergency.” The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Portland
District and local first responders staged and deployed equipment to battle a mock oil
spill just below Dexter Dam southeast of Eugene, Oregon. This was the first time the agencies
put a unified response to the test at a Corps dam. The Corps operates and maintains 13 dams in
Oregon’s Willamette Valley. The dams provide people in the region many benefits, including
flood risk reduction and hydropower. But with the benefits come risks. Dustin Bengston: “While we do everything we
can to engineer out risk and to establish operating procedures to minimize risks, we
also have that potential for oil to enter the water.” The Corps has a robust oil spill response
and prevention program in place at its dams. Still, resources are limited. A unified, multi-agency
response will be essential to mitigate environmental impacts if an oil spill were to happen. Dustin- Bengston: “They have emergency deployment
assets, spill boom, command centers, training and expertise that can be deployed quickly
in the event of a large-scale spill.” This exercise was an opportunity to take full
inventory of resources available in the event of a major spill, put them to the test, and
identify potential improvements. During the exercise teams on each side of
the river and a boat strung a cable across the Middle Fork Willamette River. Once in
place, the cable was used to deploy a spill containment boom across the water. It was
a challenging task. Brian Wilson: “We’ve learned that deploying
something like this in these kind of currents and these flows takes a lot more resources
and a lot more equipment than we initially thought.” Dustin Bengston: “We’re committed to doing
everything we can to keep oil out of the environment. We recognize our risks and liabilities and
we’re working with other agencies to develop effective response plans in the event that
something unforeseen does happen.” Wilson said the next step is to apply what
they learned to the Corps’ emergency response plan. And continue practicing. Brian Wilson: “Because we’re really going
to need the help of everybody to get something like this mitigated for and protect the environment.” In Portland, Oregon, I’m Michelle Helms.

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