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Flathead Lake: Barge dumps oil
Flathead Lake: Barge dumps oil

WOODS BAY - A barge helping construct a breakwater near Bayview Resort and Marina spilled an undetermined amount of oil and diesel fuel into Flathead Lake on Thursday morning, officials said.

Lake County Office of Emergency Management coordinator Stephen Stanley said the barge was operated by Tim Knopfle of Advanced Docks and Decks in Lakeside. It was the same watercraft that sank near Angel Point earlier in May, also causing a response from disaster and emergency services agencies because of the potential for a fuel spill.

The oil slick was expected to be contained by Thursday evening, Stanley said.

Four agencies were involved in the response to the spill, indicative of the complexities of jurisdiction on Flathead Lake. Stanley of Lake County OEM responded after the initial call came in because the Woods Bay community is located within Lake County. The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes assisted in initial containment efforts. The tribal government has jurisdiction over the southern half of the lake and has considerable expertise in responding to environmental problems on the lake.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency has ultimate authority over water quality, so it was notified of the spill. And later in the day, Flathead County became involved, because it was learned the water in the lake in that area is within Flathead County's immediate jurisdiction, not that of tribal or Lake County governments.

Stanley said Knopfle reported the spill to him shortly after 9 a.m. Thursday, and worked diligently throughout the day to clean up the shoreline with absorbent materials supplied by the county and the tribes.

Later in the afternoon, Flathead County responders and Stanley deployed a hard vinyl curtain, called a sea curtain, to seal off the immediate area so the oil and diesel fuel would be better contained.

No wildlife appeared to be adversely affected by the spill.

Stanley said he did not know yet how much petroleum pollutant leaked into the lake from the barge. Knopfle did not return telephone calls on Thursday.

One bystander speculated that a fuel line on the barge had been severed while the barge was working on breakwater construction at a site on Yenne Point Road near the Woods Bay Homeowners Association lake access.

Reporter John Stromnes can be reached at 1-800-366-7186 or at jstromnes@missoulian.com.

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