The end is in sight. That’s what officials from Chevron have promised the citizens of Salt Lake City, who have watched from the fenced-off sidelines as one of the region’s most beloved recreation spots was used as a cesspool to collect thousands of gallons of oil that gushed from the company’s intracity pipeline.
Now, the lake is being restored from the dirt up. City officials say more than 7,000 cubic yards of soil have been removed from the dried-up bed of the Liberty Park pond and that testing is under way to determine whether more will need to be removed to ensure that no oil remains.
But once that is assured, they say, they plan to hold Chevron to its promise to leave the lake, which takes up most of the southeast quadrant of Liberty Park, even better than it was before it was turned into a disaster zone.
“We’re holding them to it,” said Lisa Harrison Smith, a spokeswoman for the Salt Lake City mayor’s office. “There needs to be a dramatic improvement. ... By the spring we want it to be open and we want the community to be able to use it, and we don’t want it to smell like oil.”
In an attempt to capture 33,600 gallons of oil that erupted from a Chevron pipeline in June — an accident that appears to have been the worst inner-city oil spill in the United States in several decades — city officials decided to close off Liberty Park pond for use as a catch basin.
That decision may have saved miles of waterways downstream from further contamination, but it also ended any chance of the lake being used for its intended recreational purposes, including boating and bird-watching, for the rest of the summer and fall.
Chevron quickly pledged to clean up its mess, an effort that the company says will cost about $2 million, and to reimburse those who were financially affected by the spill.
That includes Tracy Aviary, the nation’s largest public bird park, which borders the lake on the southwest quadrant of the park. Tracy Aviary director Tim Brown said he’s been frustrated at how long it has taken to get a response from the company’s claims representatives on the park’s requests for reimbursement for expenses related to the rescue of oil-slicked birds and other costs. He’s hoping for swifter action on claims for post-spill water testing and lost revenue. He noted that the aviary opened several new exhibits around the time of the spill — and it usually expects to see a jump in visitors after such additions.
Instead, revenue was sharply down. “People ask us all the time if we’re even open,” he said, noting the construction equipment and fencing up around the park. “They think we’re closed.” Brown said that while Chevron initially said “all the right things” in response to the spill, he’s since been shuffled between several claims adjusters.
He’s now waiting on $30,000 in reimbursements to the publicly supported aviary. “I think part of being a good citizen means you don’t leave people hanging,” he said. He’s dubious of Chevron’s April 1 target for completing the restoration project and said the company would do well to do more than simply return the park the way it was. “Some sort of campaign for Liberty Park would be nice,” he said. “They could call it the ‘It’s Not Screwed Up Anymore’ campaign.” Chevron spokesman Mickey Driver said the company would work with Tracy on the claim and was hoping to hold a celebration at the bird park when the cleanup is complete. And Driver said Chevron would consider any public suggestions on ways it could further express its appreciation for the community’s patience.