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The ADEQ has extensive remediation experience, Benefield said, and is capable of handling oil spills.
"Of course, this is a large release with some unique aspects," he said. "I won't say that we clean up spills of 5,000 barrels every day but we do clean up spills pretty much every day."
The main body of Lake Conway was never off limits to boaters or fishers, Game and Fish Commission spokesperson Keith Stephens said in an interview. Access to the cove was restricted after the spill because so much heavy equipment was congregated there. The cove is now accessible, he added, even though it is rarely used and has never been a popular fishing spot.
Rumors have circulated among lakeside residents that authorities go out early in the morning to collect dead fish in the cove and the lake. Stephens said his agency has never received any reports about dead fish after the spill.
When the spill first occurred, the focus was on the immediate response — removing all of the visible oil in the water, vegetation and soil. So far, the company has spent $47.5 million on cleanup, ExxonMobil spokesman Aaron Stryk said in an email.
The Northwoods subdivision in Mayflower is the only area of the spill still in the response stage, because five homes have yet to be declared oil-free, Benefield said.
Johnson said that if the pipeline had to burst, it's fortunate it happened in the subdivision. Any farther north and the oil would have had a much more direct route to the main body of Lake Conway.
"All these years I knew the pipeline was here but I never dreamed of it busting," Johnson said. "That's something you hear of in a different state or a different place."
When a county worker notified him about the spill on that Friday afternoon, he was at home building himself a workshop. He and his co-workers had the day off because they work 10-hour shifts Monday through Thursday.
By the time the rain began that Friday night, Mayflower had about exhausted its 75-ton supply of gravel. County workers supplemented that by hauling in their own gravel from about eight miles away as crews labored through Saturday's rain.
Johnson praised ExxonMobil for the way its workers tried to slow the oil before it reached the cove.
Two major obstacles — a railroad track and four lanes of Interstate 40 — meant cleanup crews had to navigate a circuitous, northeastern path to stop the oil as it surged across asphalt, concrete, a grassy culvert 20- to 30-feet wide and wetlands on its path toward the cove and lake. Workers laid out gravel and positioned large pipes at strategic angles so the oil would rise and pool. That way, it was easier to suck it up with vacuums and skimmers.
"When you hear oil spill, you think something happened at a gas station," Johnson said. "When he told me that an oil pipeline had busted, I said 'Oh, no.'
"If we had to work night and day to stop that oil, we'd work night and day. And we'd do it all again if this ever happened again."
Then he paused and tugged at the brim of his baseball cap: "I just hope we don't ever have to."
This story is part of a joint investigative project by the Arkansas Times and InsideClimate News. Funding for the project comes from people like you who donated to an ioby.org crowd-funding campaign that raised nearly $27,000 and from the Fund for Investigative Journalism.
Excellently analyzed and expressed, as always. Best Razorback commentary available. Thanks.
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