2010 Enbridge oil spill in Kalamazoo River: a lasting effect on local business

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BATTLE CREEK, Mich. -- With the $177 settlement between the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Justice with Enbridge announced Wednesday, the $62 million in fines from the July 2010 Kalamazoo River oil spill are the highest Clean Water Act penalties to be paid for an oil spill.

Considered to be the worst inland oil spill in U.S. history, Enbridge and EPA officials Wednesday in Battle Creek dodged directly answering-multiple times-exactly where the $61 million in fines for the Marshall spill will be paid ($1 million toward the Romeoville, IL spill). However, officials say it will go toward “building up the Kalamazoo River.”

Wednesday FOX 17 kayaked the Kalamazoo River about 12 miles west of Marshall where the pipeline burst in 2010, along one of the clean-up sites on the riverbank of Riverview Recreation. While some residents and passersby boating say they are satisfied with Enbridge's clean-up, others tell FOX 17 they still see oil slicks along the riverbank.

"It was devastating to our business," said Jeff Heppler, Riverview Recreation owner of nearly 30 years. "I mean, it basically took us from you know comparatively good summers to zero in one day."

The Enbridge oil spill of 2010 in Marshall hit some businesses hard, especially those like Heppler’s seated a half-mile along the Kalamazoo River.

“It was devastating at the time and there’s days that you just said, ‘why bother, you might as well throw in the towel,’” recalled Heppler. “But we got through it and we’re attempting to make things better.”

Heppler recounted some of the difficult scenes, after 20,082 barrels of oil spilled into the river in Marshall killing wildlife, forcing some families to move, and shutting down some businesses. Heppler said they chose to pitch in with the clean-up: Enbridge paid him to build the clean-up site on Riverview Recreation’s riverbank.

Heppler said they got to work: “we built this in three days," he said, surveying his boat launch and cleared gravel road.

Another local farmer who spoke up at the Enbridge press conference Wednesday, Mike Mumaw, is calling for double-walled pipes in “vital areas like under the Mackinac Bridge,” speaking of the fears of Enbridge Line 5 rupturing beneath the Straits of Mackinac.

Though calling for action, Mumaw says he’s supportive of Enbridge’s extensive clean-up of areas, including his farm.

“An accident is an accident,” said Mumaw, “they didn’t do it on purpose. I just think they did a good job."

Heppler, who is also the Augusta and Galesburg police chief, and sitting vice president of the Kalamazoo County Board of Commissioners, continues to call for communities to support their local business.

“It’s hard being in business today,” he said. “It’s not easy. So it’s important to ask the public to support your local businesses, because they won’t exist.”

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