After French Broad fuel oil spill, Riverkeeper and residents question speed, effectiveness of cleanup



UPDATE Feb. 18: The Citizen-Times reports that a Harrison Construction official puts the oil spill at 3,000 gallons.

French Broad Riverkeeper image of oil sheen on the French Broad

Was cleanup of Friday’s fuel oil contamination reasonably fast and effective? An Asheville Greenworks video questions the number, placement and effectiveness of booms, floating barriers meant to contain a spill.

French Broad Riverkeeper Hartwell Carson notes a “significant” amount of oil escaping the boom and continuing to the river, 20 hours after the spill. Video here.

Early Saturday morning, local news photographer and former Mountain Xpress contributor Bill Rhodes observed and photographed a boom he describes as “breached,” with “heavy product and crude streaming through.” Rhodes’ blog entry and photographs are here.

More containment booms were added Saturday. According to the Citizen-Times, the spill was first noticed Friday around 1:30 p.m.

A storage tank malfunction Friday at Harrison Construction/APAC Atlantic in Enka dumped as much as 4,000 gallons of fuel oil into the French Broad River via Hominy Creek in West Asheville, according to Carson. Harrison Construction is at 1188 Smoky Park Highway in Enka.

The Asheville Citizen-Times quotes Landon Davidson, regional supervisor for the N.C. Division of Water Resources, as saying the spill occurred when a coupling on a storage tank pipe failed. An open valve on a containment basin was a contributing factor.

According to Davidson in the Citizen-Times, Harrison Construction might face fines or penalties.

From the West Asheville Business Association (WABA) blog, here is what locals can do to help:

Monitor the booms placed in the creek. If you see any of them not containing the fuel or hanging out of the water, contact Neo Corporations Emergency Line: 1-800-222-6361.

If you see oil in the French Broad River downstream from Hominy Creek, report it to Western North Carolina Alliance at or (828) 258-8737.

French Broad Riverkeeper image

WABA also notes there are oil spill updates on the following Facebook pages dedicated to Hominy Creek and the French Broad River:

Asheville Greenworks

Friends of Hominy Creek Greenway

French Broad Riverkeeper

Oil spill photo album here from Asheville Greenworks on Facebook.

More Asheville Greenworks videos of the spill in Hominy Creek here.



Bill Rhodes February 17, 2014 - 5:35 pm

I don’t have a boat. Want to buy me one? And, as a veteran of years in the USCG stationed in NY Harbor, WTF does the Army Corps of Engineers know about water pollution?

Cole Fulbright, PE, USACE-Wilmington February 16, 2014 - 4:31 pm

So the opinion of the EPA, NCDEHNR, 20+ certified NEO contract reps that responded, the quick response of Harrison to hire a remediation response contractor, and the combined experience of all those involved (from an official standpoint) is overweighed by Hartwell Carson-a designated public PR servant and Bill Rhodes-an amateur photographer. Not quite sure what’s worse the opinion of the uneducated or the over dramatic delivery methods being utilized…

I have dealt with Hartwell on several USACE jurisdictional items during his tenure in Asheville and can almost guarantee this latest rant is being used to justify his next salary increase. Hopping in your canoe and prancing around stirring up an agenda during the midst of a 12″ snow melt with the FB flowing at 2 million cfs (960,000 gps) is absurd. And the opinion of a beaver tree loving photographer with a canoe has about as much weight as his tripod.

Jennifer Saylor February 16, 2014 - 6:54 pm

Cole, what opinions of the EPA, NCDENR and NEO are you referring to?

I feel French Broad Riverkeeper Hartwell Carson’s evaluation has weight here. His environmental stance does not render his opinion irrelevant. Relevant professional experience and education is here that convinces me his evaluation is valuable:

“After working for the Forest Service in Colorado, Hartwell earned his Master’s of Science from the University of Montana, where he conducted extensive work examining social and ecological impacts on the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument.”

And Bill Rhodes is not an amateur photographer. Rhodes is a professional photographer whose work has appeared in the New York Times, and who has covered community news for local publications. I place a high level of trust in his observations as a community news professional, or I would not have shared them.

On viewing Rhodes’ photograph and Carson’s video, I see booms that clearly allow fuel to leak past in a way that to me indicates a possibility of ineffective spill mitigation. Add to this a long history of poor corporate response to environmental impact, and I stand by this report 100 percent.

Language like describing Carson’s actions as “prancing, “hopping,” and a rant designed to justify a salary increase do not, to me, show objective evaluation of kind I hope this blog post will further. Nor does referring to Rhodes as a beaver-loving tree photographer.

Do you have data that support your implied idea that cleanup was timely and effective? I welcome them, and will gladly update this post to include them.

theOtherBarry February 16, 2014 - 10:18 pm

Yes, Mr. Fulbright. Please present specific evidence that the cleanup initiated by APAC-Atlantic (I won’t play the PR game of shifting the blame onto a little-known subsidiary) was timely and effective. I was there long after Mr. Hartwell and Mr. Rhodes left, I can tell you that the oil sheen was unmistakeable and the reek of diesel fuel was still overpowering along the edge of the French Broad, well past those containment efforts.

If their initial response was so great, why were they scrambling to throw another 5 or 6 containment booms into the creek a full day after the spill was reported?

I find you hateful comments about Hartwell and Bill to be a good indicator of where you’re really coming from.

Speaking of where you’re coming from, other than a cartoon character, I can find no “Cole Fulbright” anywhere online, especially at the Wilmington Corps of Engineers. Who are you now, again?

Susan February 16, 2014 - 8:18 pm

Personally, I believe my eyes and my nose.

And that evidence says that what Carson and Rhodes had to say was way, way, way too kind.

This was a big frack-up and was not handled properly by the criminal company (Harrison) or the EPA or the DENR or the clean up crew – or crews. Seems to me that the response was very mellow, way too weak, and came far too late.

Someone needs to be arrested for poisoning our waterways….. and it ain’t Carson or Rhodes.

Hartwell Carson February 16, 2014 - 10:55 pm

Cole, my main complaint in the video was the lack of booms in the immediate vicinity of the spill. The first boom was 1/2 downstream, and there was significant oil in the stream at that point. Since that video was made, they have added two booms upstream. They have also added hard booms, which seems to have reduced the amount of oil in the creek. The amount of oil on lower Hominy Creek today was greatly reduced from yesterday, and I credit that to response of DENR, EPA, and Harrison/APAC. I am still very frustrated that Hominy Creek and the French Broad River are still being treated as a dumping ground, but give credit to all of the people trying to protect it and clean it up.

Jennifer Saylor February 17, 2014 - 10:23 pm

“Cole Fulbright” is a Zelda character.

The Cole Fulbright post is from a fake commenter who has posted to Ashvegas under two different aliases from one IP address. Letting it stand as an example of dishonest, unethical commenting tactics, and to make it clear that is aware of them.

IP address

Names used: Russell Gile, Cole Fulbright

Email addresses used:,

IP address origin: Candler NC

theOtherBarry February 17, 2014 - 11:22 pm

Jennifer, email me. I have the name of the person.

theOtherBarry February 16, 2014 - 2:14 pm

DENR told everyone on the ground on Friday/Saturday that the spill originated at “APAC-Atlantic/Harrison”. They are essentially the same company. Same address, same physical facilities, same parent company.

APAC is the biggest asphalt maker/paver in the Southeast, and will almost certainly be one of the biggest contractors in the I-26 widening. Nobody’s heard of ‘Harrison’ – throw the spill around their necks…

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