A Lower Yakima Valley landowner has been fined $28,000 for the oil spill that contaminated the Yakima River from Mabton to Prosser over four days in March 2015.
The spill contaminated dozens of ducks and geese, with 77 mallards and gray geese brought to an empty Pasco warehouse to have oil cleaned off and be rehabilitated. Not all contaminated birds could be saved.
The spill also fouled wetlands, Yakama Nation reservation lands and a fish hatchery near Prosser.
“We regret this incident occurred and we’re working closely with Ecology on next steps to get our land cleaned up,” said Ward Deaton of Deaton Land, the owner of the property where the spill happened.
The land near Sunnyside previously had been the site of the former Monson Ranches feedlot. Deaton cooperated in an investigation of the spill and cleanup when it was discovered.
About 2,700 gallons of oil spilled from an above-ground storage tank, according to the Washington State Department of Ecology. An estimated 1,900 gallons traveled up to 24 miles, flowing through underground piping to spill into Sulfur Creek, which empties into the Yakima River near Mabton.
Ecology said at the time that it was the first major oil spill in the Lower Yakima Valley in at least 17 years.
The state, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Yakama Nation and a local irrigation district worked to clean up the spill in the water, including using vacuum pumps to siphon oil from the creek and using absorbent pads to clean the river.
However, soil and groundwater at the property remains contaminated and needs a long-term cleanup plan, according to the Department of Ecology.
The ducks rehabilitated in Pasco were returned to the wild. The gray geese, a domestic breed that had been released to roam in the wild before the spill, were adopted out.
In addition to the fine, Deaton Land also must meet Washington state law requirements to compensate the public for harming natural resources.
Compensation could include a restoration or improvement project or study, or the land owner could be assessed damages to be paid into a state rehabilitation fund for natural resources.
The delay in issuing the fine occurred when the EPA conducted its own investigation and then deferred action to the state, according to the Department of Ecology. Deaton has 30 days to appeal the fine.
“Old above-ground storage tanks that contain oil pose a threat to the environment and are common in rural areas,” said Sam Hunn, of the Department of Ecology’s Spills Program. “When one fails, it can be an expensive and avoidable mistake.”
The Yakima Herald Republic contributed to this report.