Underwater construction blast at Ute kills fish

CMI Staff

A controlled underwater blast offshore from the Ute Lake Project construction site Friday morning killed fish in the lake, project officials said today, but it is unclear how many.

While no one could provide an authoritative estimate on the number of fish killed, T.J. Smith, president of the Logan Chamber of Commerce, said he took a boat out onto the lake after the blast and said dead fish “were everywhere. There were hundreds, maybe thousands of them.”

Paul Van Gulick, the project manager for Occam, the company managing the construction project, said he had no estimate of the number of fish, but said most were shad, not game fish. He said he had heard only 20 game fish were killed in the blast, but could not confirm that number.

The blast, he said, was carried out under procedures agreed upon with the New Mexico Game and Fish Department. He said a Game and Fish biologist monitored the blast, but he could not name the individual. Gulick said Game and Fish asked only that the fish be “gathered up and catalogued.”

Attempts to reach Game and Fish officials were unsuccessful Friday afternoon.

Gayla Brumfield, chair of the Eastern New Mexico Water Utility Authority board, said the blast was the only underwater explosion planned by contractors. Chassid it had been planned and public announcement were issued weeks ago.

Brumfield said contractors plan to blast two more times on land before finishing the authority’s intake structure.

Smith said he saw two boats carrying people wearing safety vests marked with ASI, the name of one of the construction contractors, on the lake netting killed fish from the water.

Thomas Hnasko, the attorney representing the Village of Logan in federal and state litigation against the Ute Lake Project, said the fish kill directly contradicts statements made in the ENMWUA ‘s federal court testimony in which, he said, counsel for the water utility had said no fish would be killed.

“This is very unfortunate,” Hnasko said. Especially, he said, since ENMWUA counsel had also said in court there would be “no environmental impact at all” from the project.

“This is a significant environmental effect,” he said.

The ENMWUA is building an intake structure on Ute Lake’s north shore as part of a pipeline project that is designed to carry water eventually from Ute Lake to Curry and Roosevelt counties. The Village of Logan has filed suit to prevent the project from continuing.

Louis Rose, who represented the Eastern New Mexico Water Utility Authority in federal court, said he does not remember making “any affirmative statement that there would be no fish killed” as a result of the project in federal court. He said he may have made a reference to no fish killed, but only as a reflection of Game and Fish’s understanding of some terms of the agreement between the contractors and the department.

Van Gulick said Friday’s underwater blast was designed to create a vertical wall and horizontal shelf that would anchor valves and hardware to control water flow to the intake.

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