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Liberty Lake opens to the public after 11 months of clean up

Published: Friday, May 13 2011 12:58 p.m. MDT

Theresa Gafa, Falenaoti Lam-Tiang and Valasi Jude feed the ducks in Liberty Park in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, May 11, 2011. The duck pond is officially open for the first time since last year's oil spill.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — A formerly coagulated Liberty Park pond is again open to the public, 11 months after 32,000 gallons of crude oil forced its closure.

Last year's pipe break shocked citizens, dirtied waterways and threatened wildlife along the path of Red Butte Creek and since then, oil magnate, Chevron, has paid about $2.5 million to clean up the mess. The owner of the locally placed pipeline is now helping to sponsor an event this weekend, that aims to unite the neighborhood and redefine the pond as the park's gathering place.

Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker said holding the annual Celebrate the City event at Liberty Park "seemed appropriate" given the circumstances.

Since the oil leak, 10,000 cubic yards of tainted soil and muck have been cleared from the lake and crews have installed a new lining. Decorative curbing and gravel have also been replaced to further define the water's edge.

"They've done a good job," said Jeff Niermeyer, director of the city's public utilities. "It's taken longer than we had hoped for, but part of that has just been the wet weather we've been in."

Following a parade to honor the first responders to last year's oil spill, Becker will participate in a ribbon-cutting to re-open the lake after its one-year closure.

"Visitors will have the opportunity to see and appreciate this beautiful city landmark up-close and get a taste of what Liberty Park has offered to the public since the 1800s," he said.

One group of residents, however, still isn't satisfied with Chevron and its clean-up efforts and it wants the owner of the locally placed pipeline to restore the creek-bed to its pristine state.

"I'm very concerned that we don't know the potential health hazards that will come as a result of this," said Salt Lake resident Kate Jensen. "There hasn't been enough research done yet by Chevron."

Jensen is one of several who have filed a lawsuit, asking for further environmental restoration, as their patience with Chevron has run out.

Chevron has covered the costs of clean up and paid fines for their mistakes, and along the way they've thanked residents for putting up with the temporary inconvenience of the mess that was created by leftover sludge.

The lake, which had been used as a catch basin for oil during the 2010 leak — preventing overflow from reaching the Jordan River and the Great Salt Lake — was cleared for public use by officials on May 5.

The only fences left up around the lake are to keep people off the areas recently seeded or planted, to help with establishing restoration of the greenery. Other than these areas, the public is encouraged to enjoy the lake and the surrounding Liberty Park, including all the Lake-area concessions and amenities, as well as the Tracy Aviary.

The Celebrate the City event will begin at 2 p.m. on May 14. Details and a schedule of events can be found online, at www.slcgov.com.

Contributing: John Daley

E-mail: wleonard@desnews.com

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