Social media spotlights need for Nassau River truck spill cleanup

11:17 AM, Dec 27, 2013   |    comments
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UPDATE (Dec. 27): A local fisherman can thank his cell phone video for spotlighting the need for cleanup of a Nassau River tributary. The waterway was trashed December 21 when a semi-truck crashed, dumping its contents into the water.

Bobby Harris and his wife Ann shot video of the site Friday, and shared it on Facebook and with local news media.

"Lettuce, bags of lettuce, bags of onions is what you see around us right here. It's just floating," Bobby Harris said Friday morning as he stood on the bank of the river's tributary. 

His wife, Ann, said they want the area cleaned up.

"It's appauling, because this is not environmentally safe for the fish or our environment or anything else to that matter," she said.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection says it is working with the truck company and other agencies to coordinate the cleanup.

The DEP says it must move slowly since Interstate 95 in that area is highly-trafficked during the holidays. Also, the tributary needs to be delicately treated.

"This is a solid waste issue, not a hazardous waste concern," said Dee Ann Miller with the FDEP press office. "As such, while recovering this material is certainly desired and proper disposal important, there is no immediate threat. Recovery will be done as soon as it can safely and feasibly be done."

The says it is working with the truck company and other agencies to coordinate the cleanup.The DEP says it must move slowly since Interstate 95 in that area is highly-trafficked during the holidays. Also, the tributary needs to be delicately treated. "This is a solid waste issue, not a hazardous waste concern," said Dee Ann Miller with the FDEP press office. "As such, while recovering this material is certainly desired and proper disposal important, there is no immediate threat. Recovery will be done as soon as it can safely and feasibly be done."

The video was created on Dec. 26, five days after a crash involving a semi-truck crashed and dumped fresh produce on the road and into the Nassau River. As of just before 3 p.m., a video posted to Facebook had been shared more than 1,700 times.

The man featured in the video explains people fish in the river and is obviously frustrated about the mess left behind. According to a viewer tip, "they just took it off the road way ... and disposed it into the river over the side of the bridge."

FHP, FWC, FDEP plans to clean up mess

Florida Highway Patrol Public Information Officer Sgt Dylan Bryan responded to the viewer tip, saying, "At no point in time did cleanup crews dispose of any items into the waterway. That has not ever or will ever be a method of operation for cleaning up our scenes."

Bryan said earlier that "at the time of the crash the tide was higher and crews from Florida Department of Environmental Protection went into waist high water to clean up as much product as possible. At the time of the crash, most of the cargo was submerged. Crews were aware that the produce was there, but they could not get to it."

Bryan said crews cleaned up as much as they could at the time without jeopardizing people and reduce wetlands damage.

"Most of the produce from what I'm told, should be removed. Of course, we're dealing with various environmental factors. Again, damage to the wetlands. But, they're going to remove as much of the debris as possible."

Trucking company ensures the mess will be cleaned up

Tom Lovelace, vice president of McEntire Produce of Columbia, S.C., which was responsible for the spill, said the company became aware Friday morning that there was still debris left to be cleaned up by Sandhill Recycling Company of Yulee.

"At the time of the accident, there were contractors hired to clean the debris and remove it from the site, including our truck and our trailer," Lovelace said. "Apparently, the initial clean-up work that was done by the hired recycling company was done during high tide and all of the produce was not seen."

Tom Lovelace, vice president of of Columbia, S.C., which was responsible for the spill, said the company became aware Friday morning that there was still debris left to be cleaned up by of Yulee."At the time of the accident, there were contractors hired to clean the debris and remove it from the site, including our truck and our trailer," Lovelace said. "Apparently, the initial clean-up work that was done by the hired recycling company was done during high tide and all of the produce was not seen."

Several viewer tips have come in to FCN saying that the produce was visible after the crash despite tide levels. 

Karen Parker with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission said the Environmental Crimes Unit is investigating the spill, though it is not a criminal investigation as McEntire Produce is cooperating.

ORIGINAL STORY BELOW:

NASSAU COUNTY, Fla. (Dec. 21)-- A semi-truck carrying produce crashed on Interstate 95 and the clean-up is slowing traffic on Saturday morning. 

The crash happened at mile marker 371 around 6 a.m. on I-95 southbound in Nassau County, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.

The semi-truck, driven by 39 year-old Jeffery R. Swett, was cut-off by an unknown vehicle and caused Swett to lose control, hit a guard rail and flip on its side.

The unknown vehicle left the scene. 

FHP sent a release to media outlets around 11 a.m. detailing that the right and center lanes will be closed for several hours while crews clean up the fresh produce that spilled on the road. 

Drivers should expect delays. 

Follow on Twitter for the latest traffic updates. 

First Coast News

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