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Cleanup of diesel spill in San Diego River could take a month

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An overturned diesel truck has spilled approximately 3,700 gallons of fuel onto Morena Boulevard.

SAN DIEGO — Cleanup crews were still working Monday to clean up thousands of gallons of diesel that spilled from a tanker truck into a large bird sanctuary in the San Diego River near Old Town in the west end of Mission Valley.

About 3,700 gallons of fuel spilled into the river, according to Alex Bell, spokeswoman for the San Diego County Department of Environmental Health; but it did not flow into the Pacific Ocean because mitigation booms were put in place at Pacific Coast Highway to prevent further damage.

Numerous agencies are involved in the response, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; the California Dept. of Fish and Game and it’s Office of Spill Prevention and Response; the county’s Dept. of Environmental Health and its Hazardous Materials Division; the U.S. Coast Guard; and NRC Environmental, a private company that specializes in fuel spills.

It could take up to a month to clean up the mess, Bell said.

“We’re working with all the relevant local, state and federal authorities to not only identify the scale of the affected area, but also to get the process remedied,” said Angus McDonald, president of The So Co Group, owner of the tanker truck. “It’s about doing everything we can do to mitigate it and get it cleaned up.”

The fuel spill was just upstream of Mission Bay Park’s Southern Wildlife Preserve, a major bird sanctuary in the wide San Diego River flood control channel. There were no immediate reports of damage to the birds or creatures in the tidal flats.

“Diesel is not terrible because it tends to evaporate and go away quicker than other kinds of oil, so that’s a good thing,” San Diego Audubon Society Conservation Chairman Jim Peugh said.

“A lot of those birds depend on invertebrates that live in the soil, and if they die then there’s no food for the birds, so that’s a real risk,” Peugh said.

The truck was carrying several thousand gallons of diesel fuel when it overturned and landed on its side as its driver was exiting westbound Interstate 8 to the northbound Morena Boulevard bridge.

The crash was reported just before 6 p.m. Friday, prompting a hazardous materials response, and closure of on- and off-ramps to and from Interstate 8 overnight, according to the California Highway Patrol.

The driver got out of the truck on his own, but suffered a head wound and was transported to a hospital by paramedics. He was resting comfortably at home Sunday, according to McDonald.

Morena Boulevard’s bridge above the river, and the ramps to and from Interstate 8 were reopened Sunday, according to San Diego police and the CHP.