Burnside is planning to restore capsized auxiliary water intake to its proper position after the structure was believed to be a possible source of an oil spill in Lake Cumberland in late July. 

The City of Burnside is preparing to take care of the possible source of an oil spill in late July.

Burnside Mayor Robert Lawson said the city is preparing to move and restore to its proper position a water intake unit that overturned more than a year ago. 

The spill was discovered Thursday, July 23. Employees with the Cooper Power station had reportedly noticed a sheen on the water, and reported it to Frankfort.

At the time, the Somerset-Pulaski County Special Response Team (SRT) determined that an auxiliary intake unit belonging to Burnside Waterworks had capsized.

SRT Chief Doug Baker told the Commonwealth Journal that the pumps at the bottom of the intake ended up on top, leaking oil out. Booms were placed around the intake to contain the leak.

However, at the time of the most recent Burnside City Council meeting this past Monday, Lawson expressed skepticism to the Commonwealth Journal.

"I'm still not convinced it's our leak," he said. "Our fire chief dove down and did an inspection and he can't find a leak."

Burnside Fire Chief James Martin confirmed this to the Commonwealth Journal.

"From what I could tell, there hadn't been any indication of a leak," he said. Martin checked both water intakes, top and bottom and couldn't find a problem. He noted that looking whether algae on the structure was disturbed or not was an indicator of a leak, and that was not apparent to him.

The auxiliary intake contained some 4-6 quarts of food grade oil. Lawson noted that it's used to grease the pumps for the barge-like structure that pulls water out of the lake.

Robin Hartman, a communications assistant with the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet, said that the sheen on the water would naturally dissipate quickly with sunlight and other elements and there would be no negative impact to drinking water or to fish.

There is question, however, as to whether it was actually the vegetable oil that leaked. 

Baker said that there "was definitely a leak," and there was a sheen around the unit when his group and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers found it. He said said it did appear at first to have a petroleum-like quality to it, despite Hartman's noting the intake contained food grade oil.

But whether the leak came from the part of the structure that contained that oil, or a separate possible container of petroleum placed there, Baker couldn't say.

"It's entirely possible," he noted, that a gasoline container was placed there and leaked.

Lawson said he suspects that the leak might have come from a jet ski or some other source in the area that could have let out fuel into the water. Lawson does not dispute there was a spill, but just notes that Martin could not find the source of it on the city's water intake.

According to the mayor, the intake — a backup system which to his knowledge had never been used — actually capsized more than a year ago during the massive flooding period in the spring of 2019. He added the pumps containing the vegetable oil were sealed and had never leaked before.

Plans are to enlist the help of Boswell Contracting in using a large crane to move the barge. Lawson said they'll likely move it to a marina or dock and turn it over there before putting it back to use.

"I've instructed utilities to get the barge out of there and inspect it," said Lawson. "We'll do our due diligence."

Lawson was hopeful the task would have been completed this week, but that hasn't been able to take place. He's optimistic that they'll be able to restore the capsized barge soon.

Baker said that the spilled contents in the lake are gone at this time.

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