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Saving turtles, restoring a river

An environmental recovery effort that returned a river back to its inhabitants and the community.

On Sunday, July 25th, 2010, the Enbridge Line 6B pipeline transporting light synthetics, heavy and medium crude oil from Griffith, Ind., to Sarnia, Ontario, ruptured near Marshall, Michigan, with some of its contents running into Talmadge Creek and the Kalamazoo River.  That same week, I was less than one week away from closing the sale of the company I founded, Natural Resources Consulting (NRC), to Stantec.  NRC had worked for Enbridge on various projects in Wisconsin and Illinois and we were contacted by Enbridge the night before the close to assist them with the emergency spill response.  The following week – our first week as Stantec – we mobilized six staff to Michigan to assist with the wildlife recovery effort.  Within the next six months, more than 40 Stantec staff members from at least 5 US offices were involved in the project, which included helping with wildlife recovery and rehabilitation, environmental oversight of the cleanup, and supporting various elements of data management and logistics. 

Our initial focus was wildlife recovery, a highly visible and often publicly emotional aspect of any spill response.  To me, the turtle recovery quickly became the most interesting aspect of our work.  By November of 2010, 2,670 turtles, comprising eight species, were recovered, and 4,995 by July 13, 2013.  The majority (97.9 percent) of the turtles recovered were successfully cleaned and treated medically if needed, and released.  This is the largest freshwater turtle recovery that has ever been reported.  With Enbridge and Stantec support, two technical presentations of this data were completed in 2012, one to the Joint Meeting of Herpetologists and Icthyologists, and another at the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry’s North America 33rd Annual Meeting.  A paper on homing tendencies of turtles is currently out for peer review. 

Now, three years after the spill, Stantec remains involved in a wide range of continuing assessment efforts including environmental oversight of dredging, continued turtle recovery, floristic assessments of floodplain wetlands, supporting the Natural Resources Damage Assessment process, planning and permitting of the Ceresco Dam removal on the Kalamazoo River, and initial evaluation of several potential wetland compensation sites.

When I look back at those first three months and remember the weeks on end that staff spent away from home, working long hours, and often in difficult weather conditions it makes what we accomplished so much more rewarding. We were able to play a role in giving a river back to the people of Michigan. A vital part of their community has been restored, and in many ways enhanced. Wildlife is naturally returning to the area and recreation opportunities abound in a cleaner and safer river environment—a result many would have deemed impossible in the beginning. Enbridge captured the results of the project in a powerful video that demonstrates the impact both the spill and the restoration had on those who use the river every day. It’s the perfect reminder of the impacts we have not only in the present, but on generations to come.

Scott Storlid is a regional practice leader in our Environmental Services team.

Within the next six months, more than 40 Stantec staff members from at least 5 US offices were involved in the project.

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