200 gallons of oil removed from sunken tug in Lake Champlain

About 200 gallons of oil products were recovered from a tugboat that sank in Lake Champlain in 1963,

About 200 gallons of oil products were recovered from a tugboat that sank in Lake Champlain in 1963, but divers found no fuel in the tanks, an official with the Environmental Protection Agency said today.

The lighter-than-water oil products were found stuck in high places or under overhangs within the wreck of the William H. McAllister. The oil was pumped to the surface and it will be disposed of.

Working tugs used about 800 gallons of fuel a day and the EPA had been concerned that the McAllister’s four fuel tanks could hold thousands of gallons of diesel, which could have ruptured and caused an environmental disaster on Lake Champlain, said Alan Humphrey, the EPA official who oversaw recent expeditions to the tug.

Over the last week, divers for a contractor hired by McAllister, Towing and Transportation made 13 deep-water trips to the wreck, which sits in about 165 feet of water. On Monday, officials concluded there was no fuel in the tanks.

“Our survey is comprehensive. We’re confident that there aren’t additional oil sources on board,” Humphrey said.

Humphrey said officials probably will never know how much fuel “was lost in the first 12 hours of the sinking versus how much may have been lost during a period of years.”

The dives were paid for by McAllister, Towing and Transportation, the successor of the company that was operating the tug when it sank. McAllister Vice President Buck McAllister did not return an email message today seeking comment.

Humphrey did not know how much public money was spent on the project.

The McAllister was headed back to southern New York after delivering a load of aviation fuel to the now-closed Plattsburgh Air Force Base on Nov. 17, 1963, when it struck Schulyer Reef. The eight-man crew climbed onto the barge and drifted to shore. There were no injuries.

The McAllister was the last significant commercial shipwreck on the 120-mile lake between Vermont and upstate New York. The tug sat on the bottom unmolested for decades, but concern grew after an oil sheen was discovered above the wreck site in 1997.

Concern about the threat posed by the McAllister was revived a few years ago after the EPA’s Paul Kahn learned about the wreck. He set the process in motion that ended with the dives to the McAllister.

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