DNR participates in mock oil spill exercise

A work crew positions a boom off of Mackinac Island during a mock oil spill exercise.

Oct. 2, 2015

Department of Natural Resources personnel from a handful of divisions were on hand for the recent daylong exercise by Enbridge, Inc., designed to test the capabilities of dealing with an oil spill near the Mackinac Bridge.

Staffers from the Fisheries, Wildlife, Law Enforcement and Forest Resources divisions – as well as representatives of the Executive Division – were present to observe and learn what the DNR’s immediate roles would be in the event that Enbridge’s twin 62-year-old pipelines just west of the bridge sprung a leak.

A University of Michigan study that concluded that a spill from Line 5 (as Enbridge calls it) would be a far-reaching catastrophe raised eyebrows around the state in the wake of the Line 6B pipeline that burst near Marshall in 2010, spilling more than 800,000 gallons of heavy crude into the Kalamazoo River watershed.

A state task force, led by Attorney General Bill Schuette and state Department of Environmental Quality Director Dan Wyant, called for greater scrutiny, restrictions and ongoing analysis of Line 5. The task force recommended that heavy crude – the oil that escaped from the Line 6B pipeline, and is difficult to clean up -- not be transported across the Straits in Line 5. Enbridge has agreed.

The Enbridge exercise was designed to mimic a 4,500-barrel light crude oil spill.

Among the DNR employees assigned to the exercise were eight members of the Law Enforcement Division, who were on hand to provide security in case protesters attempted to disrupt the exercise.

mock oil spill - incident command centerCpl. Craig Milkowski, a commercial fishing enforcement specialist who usually patrols from Alpena to Whitefish Bay on Lake Superior, captained a 36-foot, twin-diesel patrol boat during the exercise. He was accompanied by conservation officer Larry DeSloover, another Great Lakes enforcement guy who usually patrols from Alpena to Detroit. 

“I came up to assist Craig,” said DeSloover. “If we’re going to work all day long, we like to have two guys on the boat.”

DeSloover, who participated in similar exercises before – one, for instance, simulating a ferry collision in the fog, where the DNR’s job was search and rescue – said such exercises keep the officers on their toes.

“You always learn something, especially from a cooperative exercise like this where we’re working with the Coast Guard, the Little Traverse Bay Band of Odawas and the state police. It opens up the lines of communications so we will be prepared for the real thing.”

DeSloover said he really didn’t expect any trouble because the weather was tough.

“It’s pretty rough on the water,” he said. “They’d have to really want to be out here.”

Coast Guard cutter near Mackinac BridgeCapt. Wade Hamilton, who was part of a team that concentrated on on-shore security, said there was a foursome who attempted to get press credentials and were suspected of being up to no good, but it was “non-threatening situation.”

“When you do an exercise like this for an emergency situation, they try to bring in anyone who would have a role in it,” Hamilton said.

Jessica Mistak, a fisheries supervisor with the DNR Fisheries Division’s habitat management unit, was in one of three command posts at St. Ignace representing the Natural Resources Damage Assessment Trustees, a group that includes the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the tribes, the Department of Environmental Quality, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Attorney General’s office. Mistak was in communication with other members of the trustees group, which was headquartered in Mackinaw City.

“Our goals include making sure sensitive areas and species are identified and appropriate action is taken,” Mistak said. “If we know where a lake trout spawning reef is, for instance, we share that information so the response teams can avoid disrupting the bottom there. Or if we know where there’s a piping plover nesting area, we share that information to make sure the area is protected.”

Fisheries biologist Steve Scott, who works out of Newberry and is part of the DNR’s emergency response team, assisted in planning the exercise over the course of the last several months.

“I feel more comfortable that if we were put in this situation, I’d know how to react,” Scott said. “I now know how the DNR would fit into a big process like this.”

Assignment briefing room - mock oil spillDave Jentoft, a biologist with the DNR Wildlife Division, participated in an oiled-wildlife response workshop put on by Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research.

“We were looking at how we would respond in the event something happened,” Jentoft said. “We identified what resources were needed and potential responses. We all hope that we never have to be involved in a response like that, but it’s good to know we have the resources and knowledge to respond should something end up happening.”

Don Klingler, a fire management specialist, was one of two DNR Forest Resources Division staffers at the exercise. He participated as an evaluator of the incident management team.

“Forest Resources has a lot to bring to the table because of our experience with incident management,” he said. “Not just for fires but floods or other emergencies.  A lot of our personnel are on incident management teams, so we can help support in any emergency situation.”

DNR Deputy Director Bill Moritz attended the exercise just to observe.

“We’re glad they held this exercise,” Moritz said. “The Great Lakes are our crown jewels; there’s a need for rapid response, and it was good to see the cooperation among the various agencies.”