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Vacuum trucks, industrial gear and orange-vested cleanup crews transformed the culture of Liberty Park's pond, long after the stench of oil dissipated .
But next week, after a scrubbing that took nearly a year, the conspicuous fence rimming one of Salt Lake City's most vibrant recreational spaces will finally come down.
The pond, city and state officials say, has a clean bill of health. It will reopen to the public May 14, more than 11 months after a ruptured Chevron oil pipeline above the University of Utah blackened Red Butte Creek and Liberty's pond, known for paddleboats and bread-scarfing birds.
"It was a bigger job than originally anticipated," said Mayor Ralph Becker's spokesman, Art Raymond, noting that some areas with fresh sod on the pond's banks will still have protective green fencing. "But the isolation fence that's around the lake will be gone."
The reopening will highlight the third-annual Celebrate the City event, planned this year in tribute to Liberty Park as one of the city's historic gems.
City Hall struggled with whether to invite Chevron, Raymond said, but ultimately extended its hand.
"The consensus was that it was appropriate to have a Chevron representative acknowledge the amazing response and the cleanup effort."
The Saturday afternoon celebration will begin with a "grand parade" honoring the first responders to the June 11-12 oil spill.
Chevron is paying for the bulk of the event. Company spokesman Justin Higgs notes that free admission that day to Tracy Aviary will also be provided, courtesy of the oil giant.
Marilee Latta, who owns Liberty Park Grill, says customers never stop asking when the pond will reopen.
"Everyone in this neighborhood is waiting for this," she said Thursday. "Not just to go on the boats, but to really have that space back. There's something about a fence around a lake that isn't too inviting. It just gives this whole feeling of, 'Something terrible is going on in there.' "
In the days after the June spill, Latta's grill did as little as $5 in business. She also manages the amusement rides and rents the paddleboats.
Despite the long wait, Latta has nothing but praise for the work. Crews labored through the winter to dig the pond several feet deeper, add a new concrete rim and place a new rock perimeter.
"It looks really beautiful," Latta said.
The cleansing has been closely monitored by state officials, who confirm that the reopening of the pond is imminent.
"The level of cleanup, to my understanding, is satisfactory," said Walt Baker, director of the Utah Division of Water Quality.
Deputy Director John Whitehead says it's possible for trace amounts of oil to flow from Red Butte Creek into the rehabilitated pond. But he says water-quality officials consider those levels "low" and not a cause for health concerns.
The June pipeline rupture belched 33,600 gallons of crude oil, tarring the creek where cleanup continues the pond and stretches of the Jordan River.
Some water fowl that called the pond home died as a result of the spill. An estimated 270 Canada geese were cleaned and relocated to west-central Utah. About 90 ducks, which also were treated, will be returned to Liberty Park.
Six months after the spill, a second leak from the same stretch of pipeline near Red Butte Garden deposited 21,000 gallons onto snow and shrubs. Trace amounts again reached Red Butte Creek, but freezing temperatures helped crews contain the sludge.
In late January, federal regulators gave Chevron the OK to restart the troubled pipeline, citing a series of upgrades to the line's valves and leak-monitoring system.
Celebrate the City
The reopening of Liberty Park's pond will kick off Salt Lake City's third-annual Celebrate the City event, staged this year at Liberty Park to honor the history of the capital's treasured 80-acre green space. The free, family-friendly May 14 event begins at 2 p.m., with a "grand parade" honoring the first responders to Chevron's June 2010 oil spill. It will feature live bands, including a Utah Symphony brass quartet, guided tours, children's games, free amusement rides, a tennis exhibition and free admission to Tracy Aviary.