Heroes of the Willard Bay calamity victimized again

Dec 28 2013 - 5:00pm

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But who will speak for the beavers?

Remember that diesel fuel spill near Willard Bay State Park last March? Earlier this month, the state of Utah negotiated a $5.35 million draft settlement agreement with Chevron Pipe Line Co. over the incident, which occurred when yet another of the company's pipelines ruptured.

For those keeping score, that makes three spills in as many years.

This latest leak resulted in the discharge of more than 20,000 gallons of diesel fuel near Willard Bay. And now that the parties involved have reached a tentative settlement, everybody's happy, right?

Not so fast.

What about the party that worked its big, flat tails off to mitigate the effects of this ecological disaster, hmmm?

The impact of the spill could have been much, much worse, if not for a beaver dam in the area that contained the fuel and kept it from reaching Willard Bay. Six fuel-covered beavers were rescued in the aftermath, and it wasn't long before the media began referring to these furry environmental saviors as "beaver heroes" -- or, as many of us have taken to calling them, "beaveroes" (pronounced "bee-VEER-ohs").

So now the state's going to get a pile of money, and just how much of that settlement do you suppose our beloved beaveroes will see? That's right. Zip. Zero. Zilch. Nada.

Under the terms of the draft agreement, Chevron did agree to pay:

* A $350,000 civil penalty to the Department of Environmental Quality Division of Water Quality

* Nearly $4.5 million to fund projects aimed at improvements in related waterways and facilities

* And more than half a million dollars to the Department of Natural Resources Division of Utah State Parks and Recreation for lost use damages at Willard Bay State Park

Nowhere in the settlement, you will note, are the beavers even mentioned; not a penny to the one group that proved to be both hero and victim in this sad tale. No brand new "trophy lodges" for them to winter in. No funky gold grills for their impressive front teeth. Not even so much as a complementary buffet at the local lumber yard.

Indeed, as it turns out, what our heroic Castor canadensis did get for its trouble was placement in the Division of Wildlife Resources' witness protection program. The beaveroes have since been relocated to the north slope of the Uinta Mountains, where, apparently, there are plenty of leaky Chevron pipelines for them to keep an eye on.

Humph. Some reward.

But, I suppose, things could have turned out much worse for our fur-bearing friends. Indeed, in the aftermath of the spill, this Standard-Examiner columnist broke the rumor that the beavers may have been targeted for elimination prior to the incident -- because they were supposedly wreaking havoc near Willard Bay by cutting down trees for their damn dam.

And, there were even hints of a whisper campaign aimed at discrediting these beavers. Rumors of large teeth marks on the pipeline led some to allege that the large rodents may have actually staged the spill themselves -- all so they could subsequently swoop in and appear to save the day.

None of this, of course, can be proven, but that hasn't stopped the state from trying to deny the beavers their $5 million inheritance.

Ah, but the state's troubles are just beginning. Because, even if officials were able to buy the silence of one group of animals, others are waiting in the wings. You see, our brave beaveroes weren't the only wildlife affected by the spill. Also contaminated were muskrats, fish, frogs, and even some birds.

Which sounds like a class-action lawsuit to me.

Contact Mark Saal at 801-625-4272 or msaal@standard.net. Follow him on Twitter at @Saalman. Find him on Facebook at facebook.com/mark.saal.

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