University Lake Park closes as officials respond to oil spill

A popular Anchorage off-leash dog park was closed Wednesday because an oil spill reported last week in its lake was growing, city and state Department of Environmental Conservation officials said.

Portions of University Lake were blocked off with duct tape last week and signs urged dog owners to prevent their pets from jumping into the water where there was a sheen or smell of oil.

On Wednesday afternoon, a worker at contractor US Ecology, which disposes of hazardous waste, was using a vacuum truck on the south side of the lake, near where the water flows. Others were marking the paths in the park. Workers were also deploying booms from a small dinghy. There was a noticeable smell in the area.

The spill was first reported on June 21, estimated to be 20 gallons, and cleanup efforts began the next day, said Kelly Rawalt, a DEC public information officer.

Officials are still searching for the largest source of oil that led to the spill, Rawalt said, but the oil has traveled to a device in the city’s drainage system that collects runoff water and separates the oil from the water. before the water is discharged into the lake. The device had overflowed due to frequent rain over the past few weeks and malfunctioned ejecting the oil into the lake instead of pulling it out, he said.

The municipality emptied the device once the leak was discovered, Rawalt said.

Employees from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the Environmental Protection Agency and the municipality visit the site daily to monitor the spill, according to Rawalt.

Boomers were deployed last week, which help absorb and contain oil, Rawalt said. The spill initially appeared to be contained in specific areas, but Rawalt said Wednesday afternoon that the size of the sheen had increased, prompting the city to close the park.

Ellen Devine with Anchorage Parks and Recreation said the park is closed until further notice and said the city doesn’t have an estimate for when it will reopen.

In addition to deploying more booms on Wednesday, crews began clearing vegetation that contained oil, Rawalt said. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the US Fish and Wildlife Service were using hazing methods to prevent wildlife from approaching the area, Rawalt said.

Anyone seeing wildlife that may be affected by the oil is asked to call 907-269-3063. Rawalt said a report was made Wednesday indicating some ducks may have been affected by the spill.

Daily News photojournalist Marc Lester contributed.

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