A tanker truck crash just off the eastern end of the Conowingo Dam roadway late Wednesday evening still had Route 1 over the dam closed as of 4:30 p.m. Thursday, state police and State Highway Administration officials said.
State highway officials were continuing to detour traffic as far south as Castleton Road in Darlington, but the accident occurred on the Cecil County (east) side of the dam, just north of the Route 222 and Route 1 intersection.
There was no immediate indication when the highway, a major route in northern Harford and Cecil counties, would be reopened, even though some highway workers had said earlier in the day they expected Route 1 to reopen by early afternoon.
The accident occurred shortly after 11 p.m. Wednesday, Lt. John Cook, barrack commander for the North East State Police Barrack, said Thursday.
The truck, a 2000 Freightliner tractor trailer with 3,000 gallons of diesel fuel in the tanker, was headed north on Route 1 and had just crossed the dam when it collided with a guardrail, Cook said.
The truck was "engulfed in flames," Cook said, and though the driver sustained some burns and was flown by Maryland State Police Medevac helicopter, his injuries were considered non-life threatening.
It is unknown how the crash happened but it was determined as "driver error," he added. The driver has not been publicly identified.
The diesel fuel spilled and flowed down onto the roadway of the Conowingo Dam and off the road onto the railroad tracks, Cook said. The State Highway Administration and Maryland Department of the Environment had been working throughout the day to clean the road and river embankment, he said.
The railroad tracks are part of the Norfolk-Southern Railroad line that runs along the river from Perryville to Harrisburg, Pa. The tracks cross under Route 1 just east of the dam.
Even though the accident occurred on the Cecil County side of the dam, Darlington Volunteer Fire Company on the Harford County side responded to the scene to assist, Harford County Volunteer Fire and EMS Association spokesman Dave Williams said Thursday morning.
Cecil County fire and rescue units led the cleanup, he added, but the Darlington company remained as a supporting unit.
At least two communities, Havre de Grace in Harford County and Port Deposit in Cecil County, draw their drinking water from the Susquehanna downriver from the dam. Harford County's public water supply also uses the river as a backup.
Unburned fuel did get into the river, Maryland Department of the Environment spokesman Jay Apperson said Thursday afternoon. He did not have an estimate of how much.
"It's pretty safe to assume that some of it got into the water and went downstream," Apperson said, adding that the towns' water supplies would not be affected.
Plants pull from several feet below the surface, Apperson said, and Port Deposit's plant was running on stored water anyway.
When MDE first responded to the scene, Apperson said, an emergency response unit set up containment booms to prevent additional fuel from getting into the river and surrounding soil. The booms they use are set up to absorb oil but not water.
After the initial cleanup, a contractor took over, Apperson said, but the MDE is still overseeing the process, especially where the diesel oil was saturated into the soil.
Most of the oil went into the soil and on the dam itself rather than the water, Cecil County Department of Emergency Services Richard Brooks said Thursday, making for a slow recovery project but no risk to areas downstream.
Route 1 at both ends of the dam was still closed and would be for some time, Brooks said, because the oil on the roadway caused slippery conditions for vehicles.
Havre de Grace city government spokesman Jim Newby said Thursday the city had shut down its water treatment plant from midnight to 2:30 a.m. Thursday as a precautionary measure, but were not concerned about the water.
Oil lays on top of the water, he said, and Havre de Grace is pulling water from 18 feet below the surface, so they do not expect any problems.