VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — Navy officials announced Friday that the response to a jet fuel spill at Naval Air Station Oceana is transitioning from emergency into a phase of remediation and assessment.
This update comes as response to the spill has continued into a second week.
Members of the Unified Command Center — a group of specialists from various agencies working to clean the spill — were on-hand Friday to talk about the transition.
Officials say 94,000 gallons of jet fuel spilled two weeks ago, after a fuel switch was in the incorrect position during the transfer of fuel into a storage tank. The fuel routed to a smaller tank and overflowed as a result. The overflow was not discovered until the next morning, officials said in an update last week.
NOTE: Officials give an update on the response to a jet fuel spill at Naval Air Station Oceana. WAVY App users can watch the news conference at this link.
Capt. Kevin Carroll, of US Coast Guard Sector Hampton Roads, said a majority of the 94,000 gallons spilled stayed on base. Speaking at Thursday’s news conference, Carroll said crews prevented the fuel from getting to the Lynnhaven River.
“We have taken, I would say, very deliberate, methodical steps to ensure that we have minimized the impact to the environment,” Carroll said.
Navy officials said the day following the spill that cleanup was expected to be completed within 48 hours. Carroll said that initial cleanup timeline “was overly optimistic.”
On Friday, the Navy said all recoverable jet fuel has been removed. Still, residents may notice patches of light sheen or a slight residual odor at times. Navy officials say there are are no health hazards associated with the odor and it will diminish over time.
Capt. Rich Meadows at NAS Oceana said, “With this transition, most noticeably, you’ll see a reduction in vehicle movement, equipment and operations.”
The Navy is required by the Department of Environmental Quality to complete an investigation of any long-term ground water or surface water issues — and make corrective actions, if needed.
“As I said before, and above all else, our commitment is to the residents,” Meadows said. “We’re continuing to work to address your concerns … and to maintain and/or regain your trust.”
Of the people who relocated from nearby neighborhoods, Meadows says 20 people remain in hotels.
“The emergency phase prevented the spill from being worse. And the next phase seeks to make it better … for the families, better for the environment and better for our relationship as neighbors,” Meadows said.
Experts at the Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences told 10 On Your Side Thursday that fuel absorbed into the marsh could cause a problem for wildlife.
“The problem is, if that kills below ground parts of the plant, then the impacts for the system will persist for years,” said Dr. Carl Hershner.
Wildlife experts have released three animals that were affected in the spill.
Rain earlier in the week slowed down the cleanup of the spill, as crews started the process of excavating soil in a ditch along London Bridge Road. Some lanes of London Bridge Road will be closed through Sunday as crews continue cleanup.
“There was some significant rain that occurred the last two weeks,” Meadows said. “The rain, in one essence, enabled us in the effort because it flushed (the fuel) into one specific area, where we were concentrated on collecting it.”
Meadows added that the rain hindered efforts because it made the fuel more difficult to collect.
In addition to the transition phase, the Navy says the Unified Command Center will be dissolved.