Thursday, August 12, 2010
Tanker Spills Sludge Into Rio De Las Vacas
By Susan Montoya Bryan
The president of a group dedicated to preserving New Mexico's trout waters couldn't believe what he was seeing.
The tanker truck's back wheels slipped into the soft dirt as it was trying to turn around on a dirt road. It rolled onto its side with its top latch open and thousands of gallons of an oily, hot asphalt mixture went spilling out. The sludge flowed down the drainage from the road toward the Rio de las Vacas, a popular fishing and recreation spot in the Santa Fe National Forest.
Rudy Rios, president of New Mexico Trout, said that Tuesday's rollover was an accident but that damage to the river could have been prevented with a quicker response.
"It was the inefficiency of government at play," he said of the scene after the spill. "Nobody wanted to take responsibility. Everybody was looking at everybody else to make a decision."
The 5,000-gallon tanker had sprayed some of its load on the N.M. 126 resurfacing project before getting tangled up. The company told state officials that about 2,000 gallons had spilled, and the rest remained in the truck after it was righted.
The U.S. Forest Service estimated that the sludge flowed downstream more than three miles.
Rios was concerned that the truck driver had no assistance, the lid to the tanker was not locked, and it look some time before highway crews brought up any help from the resurfacing project just a half-mile down the road. By then, the sludge had reached the river, he said.
State and federal environment officials are trying to determine the extent of the damage.
Water and soil samples were taken Wednesday, and investigators with the State Police and the New Mexico Motor Transportation Division were investigating the actions of the trucking company, Arizona based-Cactus Transport Inc.
An employee at the company's office in Albuquerque declined to comment, and messages left for the operations manager at the company's headquarters were not immediately returned.
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