A salvage barge has arrived in LeClaire, where a towboat has been partially submerged in the waters of the Mississippi for a good part of this week. The arrival of this barge on Friday evening signals the beginning of the next phase in the cleanup process.
The towboat has been in the water since Monday afternoon, and crews have been working since then to contain the oil that's been spilling from the sunken boat.
With the salvage barge now on scene, crews are getting to work to start figuring out the best way to safely remove the sunken boat from the Mississippi.
But, it's impossible to say at this point just how long that process will take.
With all going well with riverbed, equipment, and ice conditions, they could begin salvaging the boat as early as Saturday. It could also be several days to a couple weeks before they can start, depending on a lot of variables.
And, even then, it will likely take some time to finish.
"It's very difficult to determine how long we'll be here for. But one thing I can tell you is that we'll be here until the job is done," said Lt. Colin Fogarty, a public affairs officer with the US Coast Guard, "
That job is a team effort, involving several different agencies and objectives.
On Friday, while crews were out on the water pumping oil out of the sunken towboat to prevent further damage and positioning booms to contain the oil and soak it up, volunteers from the environmental group Living Lands and Waters were positioning streamers along the banks.
"We're excited to bring volunteers on scene to protect the environment and particularly wildlife," Lt. Fogarty said.
The streamers, called "bird deterrent flash tape", are meant to scare off birds and other wildlife in the area to prevent them from coming into contact with the oil in the water now.
"It is our job to ensure that whatever impacts do occur in the environment, that they are minimized to the greatest extent possible and that wildlife is rehabilitated," Lt. Fogarty explained.
Rehabilitation is the goal for a hybrid mallard rescued Friday afternoon.
After he was discovered on the bank, covered in oil, he was immediately taken to a Bettendorf veterinarian, Dr. Laura Shepard, for treatment.
Dr. Shepard says the bird was washed with dawn dish soap many, many times to remove the contamination.
The bird was emaciated and injured, although it's not clear whether his injuries are from the oil.
"Time will tell if he's going to recover fully or if he is not," Dr. Shepard said.
Dr. Shepard says it's her first time dealing with an oil spill, and hopefully the last:
"It's kind of tragic really. I mean you hear about it on the Gulf but it's sad that it's right here in our neck of the woods," she said.
And, the situation could soon become even more concerning. Coast guard officials say there are thousands of migratory birds just north of the LeClaire area right now, and as the ice advances south, the birds will move with it.
That makes the steps being taken now to protect wildlife from the oil on the water that much more important.
It is still unclear just what caused the towboat to start sinking in the first place.
Officials say the investigation is ongoing to determine what the boat struck.