On Dec. 27, 2016, a Fronk Oil tanker truck carrying petroleum products overturned in icy winter conditions on U.S. Hwy 64, releasing approximately 1,100 gallons of unleaded gasoline and diesel fuel into a section of the Cimarron River located in the Colin Neblett Wildlife Management Area of the Cimarron Canyon State Park within Colfax County, New Mexico. The spill killed fish and macroinvertebrates in the river and contaminated water, soils and sediments. A 1.5-mile section of the river downriver from the release was closed to public access for several months. Fronk Oil cleaned up the spill under the oversight of the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) that involved capture of the fuel and removal of contaminated soils and sediments.
The spill Site is located at the Cimarron River in Colfax County New Mexico, approximately 5 miles east of Eagle Nest.
On June 22, 2020 the New Mexico Office of the Natural Resource Trustee (ONRT) sent a Notice of Intent to Perform Assessment (NOI) to Fronk Oil under the authority of the Oil Pollution Act of 1990. The assessment would quantify natural resource damages (damages) for the basis of seeking compensatory relief from Fronk Oil for damages remaining after spill response and cleanup under NMED regulatory oversight. Specific resources impacted by the spill included surface water, fish populations, fish habitat, and sediment/soils along the riverbank. Fronk Oil entered into settlement negotiations shortly after NOI receipt.
ONRT filed a complaint in the United States District Court for the District of New Mexico December 22, 2020 to recover from Fronk Oil (defendant) damages for the injury to, destruction of, or loss of natural resources, including lost ecological services, resulting from releases and the threat of releases of oil into the Cimarron River near Eagle Nest, New Mexico.
On March 1, 2021, the settlement was approved by the U.S. District Court in a Consent Decree following a 30-day public notice and comment period. Under the settlement agreement, Fronk Oil has paid $150,000 to implement restoration projects that benefit fish, habitat, soil, water, and other natural resources injured, destroyed, or lost as a result of the fuel spill.
On March 24, 2021, the New Mexico Office of Natural Resources Trustee (ONRT) released the Cimarron Canyon Natural Resources Restoration Plan for the Fronk Oil Spill Final (Final RP). The Final RP describes the ONRT’s plan to compensate the public for injuries to fish and other aquatic natural resources resulting from the fuel spill into the Cimarron River. The restoration project selected in the Final RP is the Cimarron River Trout Habitat Restoration Project, ease of Eagle Nest, Colfax County.
The Final RP is consistent with the guidance provided by the Oil Pollution Act [of 1990] Natural Resource Damage Assessment regulations at 15 CFR Part 990. In compliance with those regulations, ONRT published the draft restoration plan for public comment on February 17, 2021, for a period of 30 days and considered all public comments when finalizing the plan. The restoration project selected for implementation by ONRT is described in the Final RP.
Cimarron River Trout Habitat Restoration Project, Colfax County
ONRT proposed this project after the agency learned of an existing project the Cimarron Watershed Alliance (CWA) was implementing through a contract awarded under the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) River Stewardship Program (RSP) and located down-stream from the spill site. The RSP project is located on the Cimarron River where it travels through the Cimarron Canyon State Park within the eastern portion of the Colin Neblett Wildlife Management Area. The RSP project’s goal was to improve overwintering habitat for resident brown trout and create holding areas for stocked rainbow trout along a one-mile reach of the Cimarron River. ONRT’s project further improved trout habitat immediately upstream (east) of the RSP Project for approximately 1/3rd mile. More specifically, ONRT’s project site is located north of the Maverick Campground and Gravel Pit Lakes, approximately 5 river miles downstream from the location of the Fronk Oil spill. The scope of work of ONRT’s project consisted of: 1) creating a winter habitat low flow channel, excavating periodic deep pools, and installing boulder and woody features to create still water and flow complexity through the stretch of the Cimarron River adjacent to and north of the Gravel Pit Lakes, and 2) constructing a diversion structure with a headgate where the Cimarron River is diverted to flow through the Gravel Pit Lakes. The diversion structure will extend the life of the lakes and thus trout habitat by collecting sediment before it reaches these popular fishing ponds. ONRT contracted with the NMED to oversee the technical and financial aspects of the project and NMED, in turn, amended their RSP project contract with the CWA to include ONRT’s portion of the project. The CWA and its contractors completed the ONRT section of the restoration project in October 2021. Final project closeout is anticipated in May 2023.