Crane falls into Lanier, spills oil

LAWRENCEVILLE - A construction crane slipped off a barge and into Lake Lanier Wednesday, spilling diesel fuel near a drinking water intake pipe.

Mobilizing to begin construction on a county pipeline to discharge treated wastewater into the lake, crews were loading the 160-ton crane from the lake's shore onto a floating barge when an anchor cable came loose and the barge shifted. The crane, with a 120-foot boom, slid into a water inlet.

The contractor, Oscar Renda Inc., is working to clean up the fuel, which leaked in a small area of about 60 feet by 60 feet, according to a press release. But Gwinnett County water officials said they do not believe the leak is a threat to the water supply or the lake. As a precaution, the public utility began drawing water from an intake site about a mile away, which feeds the Lanier Filter Plant.

"Thank goodness no one was injured," said Lynn Smarr, acting director of the Gwinnett Department of Water Resources. "These things happen with large equipment sometimes. Fortunately, the construction delay should only be temporary."

The contractor reported the oil sheen incident to the National Response Center and reportedly blocked the small inlet to prevent boats and other traffic from getting close to the site. The contractor also installed oil booms and absorbent material to contain the leak.

Another crane is at the construction site to lift the submerged one out of the water. Smarr said it was unknown how much of a delay the incident will cause for the pipeline project, which is expected to be completed by the end of 2009.

Officials also notified the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers of the incident, the release said.