Sunapee Harbor to reopen following fuel spill cleanup

Officials from the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services, from left, Jason Domke, Andrew Madison, and Cam Simmons, and Sunapee Fire Chief John Galloway, right, assess the state of a fuel spill in Sunapee Harbor on Monday, June 12, 2023. On Saturday afternoon, about 70 gallons fo fuel spilled from the Sunapee Lake Queen, at far right, and local emergency crews acted quickly to contain the spill in the harbor, protecting the Sugar River and the town's drinking water source farther out in the harbor. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Officials from the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services, from left, Jason Domke, Andrew Madison, and Cam Simmons, and Sunapee Fire Chief John Galloway, right, assess the state of a fuel spill in Sunapee Harbor on Monday, June 12, 2023. On Saturday afternoon, about 70 gallons fo fuel spilled from the Sunapee Lake Queen, at far right, and local emergency crews acted quickly to contain the spill in the harbor, protecting the Sugar River and the town's drinking water source farther out in the harbor. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. James M. Patterson

The sheen of diesel fuel floats at the edge of Sunapee Harbor in Sunapee, N.H., on Monday, June 12, 2023, two days after about 70 gallons of diesel fuel was spilled from the Lake Queen, a dinner cruise boat on Saturday afternoon. Much of the fuel was vacuumed off the surface of the water on Sunday. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

The sheen of diesel fuel floats at the edge of Sunapee Harbor in Sunapee, N.H., on Monday, June 12, 2023, two days after about 70 gallons of diesel fuel was spilled from the Lake Queen, a dinner cruise boat on Saturday afternoon. Much of the fuel was vacuumed off the surface of the water on Sunday. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. James M. Patterson

Bob Cummings looks down at the outflow of Lake Sunapee into the Sugar River in Sunapee, N.H., on Monday, June 12, 2023, where absorbent pads were placed on the water after diesel fuel spilled into the water from a tour boat on Saturday afternoon. In addition to trapping the fuel, the pads collected pollen floating on the surface.

Bob Cummings looks down at the outflow of Lake Sunapee into the Sugar River in Sunapee, N.H., on Monday, June 12, 2023, where absorbent pads were placed on the water after diesel fuel spilled into the water from a tour boat on Saturday afternoon. In addition to trapping the fuel, the pads collected pollen floating on the surface. "Ordinarily he walks in the lake every day," said Cummings of his dog Osito. "Not today." (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. valley news — James M. Patterson

Sunapee Town Manager Shannon Martinez, second from right, and her executive assistant Allyson Traeger, right, talk on Monday, June 12, 2023, with brothers Peter, left, and Tim Fenton, owners of the Sunapee Lake Queen, a tour boat that was the site of a fuel spill in Sunapee, N.H., on Saturday. After much of the fuel was vacuumed off the surface of the water on Sunday, a floating orange boom was being drawn in to reduce the containment area on Monday. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Sunapee Town Manager Shannon Martinez, second from right, and her executive assistant Allyson Traeger, right, talk on Monday, June 12, 2023, with brothers Peter, left, and Tim Fenton, owners of the Sunapee Lake Queen, a tour boat that was the site of a fuel spill in Sunapee, N.H., on Saturday. After much of the fuel was vacuumed off the surface of the water on Sunday, a floating orange boom was being drawn in to reduce the containment area on Monday. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. James M. Patterson

By FRANCES MIZE

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 06-12-2023 7:31 PM

SUNAPEE — Sunapee Harbor is expected to reopen on Wednesday after a fuel spill over the weekend led state officials to close it to boat traffic.

On Monday, hundreds of feet of absorbent buoys — sitting on top of the water like orange pool noodles — contained what was left of Saturday’s spill.

The New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services said the spill was large enough “to necessitate an emergency response,” which isn’t always necessary, Cam Simmons, the department’s oil spill investigator in charge of the site, said Monday.

During a routine refueling of one of the boats operated by Sunapee Cruises, a company that offers scenic lake tours, about 70 gallons of diesel fuel was inadvertently spilled into Lake Sunapee. Cleanup is being overseen by a patchwork of emergency response teams, including NHDES and the Sunapee Fire Department.

The spill poses no danger to the public or town water supply, the fire department wrote in a Facebook post on Sunday. George’s Mill Harbor Boat Launch and the Sunapee State Beach Boat Launch remained open for boats to enter into the lake.

Simmons applauded Sunapee Cruises for its quick response.

“They knew they made a mistake and stepped up quickly and took steps to fix it,” he said. “They’ve been completely transparent about the situation.”

This is the first spill of any size that Sunapee Cruises owner Peter Fenton can remember in the harbor.

Article continues after...

Yesterday's Most Read Articles

Hartford man held without bail following weekend standoff and shelter-in-place advisory
Lebanon employers seek to meet workers’ child care needs
Vermont Supreme Court to hear Tunbridge trails case
Bookstock literary festival grew too big to manage
Woodstock’s first Pride brings community together
Man gets DUI at Vermont Veterans Memorial Cemetery

“The fact that you can’t smell it now, I think that’s a good sign,” Fenton said about cleanup effort.

After the spill, Sunapee Cruises canceled boat tours for the rest of the day, and took the attendees who had signed up for that evening’s dinner cruise to Appleseed Restaurant in Bradford , N.H., which Fenton also owns.

A wedding boat tour planned for Saturday was able to get out in the morning, before the spill. “So we didn’t change any big occasions,” he said.

Because the fuel and water won’t mix and the water is the heavier liquid, spilled fuel floats on the surface. To contain it, NHDES and the Sunapee Fire Department surrounded the impacted area, which extends about 75 feet out from the docks, with long booms made of oil-absorbing material. Clean-up crews were on the scene for nearly 12 hours on Sunday, and had worked late into the night on Saturday.

Sunapee Cruises contracted with Clean Harbors, a Bow, N.H.-based environmental services company, to work on the cleanup under NHDES’ guidance. Clean Harbors used a vacuum truck to suck 3,000 gallons of contaminated water from the harbor Saturday night.

Simmons, the NHDES investigator, loaded up a small motorboat with more absorbent boom material to add to the 600-foot containment zone. 

“We deal with it as it changes,” he said.

White pads the size of printer paper were also clustered in the water at the boat launch where the spill originated. Like the booms, the pads absorb diesel fuel.

After use, they’ll be loaded into 65-gallon drums and returned to Clean Harbor’s facility. 

Pads also were placed at intervals along the mouth of the Sugar River, which originates from Lake Sunapee at the harbor. Another line of the pads is positioned downstream, to catch any oil that might slip through the gauntlet in the harbor.

NHDES stockpiles absorbent booms and pads at Department of Transportation sheds across the state, said Gardner Warr, who supervises spill response for the department.

“We put the right materials in the right places, and train the right people to do the right things,” he said.

The last emergency that brought NHDES to the harbor was when MV Kearsarge, a Sunapee Cruises boat, sank in 2013. The dinner boat filled with water during a January thaw, said Fenton, the company’s owner. He was grateful for the department’s emergency response then, and now.

“People think of them as your enemy but actually they’re here to help you,” Fenton said.

Business has slowed at Harborside Trading Company due to the harbor closure, but “a rainy day would do the same thing,” said the retail store’s owner Rhonda Gurney.

Gurney was sitting with her son at the harbor when the spill occurred. Help from the fire department and NHDES came quickly, she said.

“Emergency crews were here not long after we started smelling something,” she said, adding that every so often she sees DES outside her store window, which overlooks the harbor, conducting emergency drills. On Saturday, she got to see the real thing.

“A whole bunch of them were out there with brushes scrubbing diesel off the pavement,” Gurney said.

Frances Mize is a Report for America corps member. She can be reached at fmize@vnews.com or 603-727-3242.