Redfish Fuel Leak Cleaned Upby Greg Stahl
Idaho Mountain Express, July 20, 2005
Four-year process comes to a close this month
It's been since June 2001 that the owners of Redfish Lake Lodge reported a fuel leak at their gas station not far from the banks of Redfish Lake, but the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality has finally given lodge owners the all-clear sign.
"The cleanup is complete, and as soon as they close up the (monitoring) wells, they're done," said Steve Heaton, DEQ regional manager. Heaton sent a July 7 letter to Redfish Lake Lodge Manager Jeff Clegg announcing that the site had met state and federal cleanup standards.
The full extent of the contamination, initially an unknown factor, was determined to have infiltrated groundwater as far as 100 feet from a faulty fuel line, which connected the gas station's two 5,000-gallon fiberglass-lined steel fuel tanks to the service pumps.
The line was quickly fixed, but cleanup of the surrounding groundwater and soils took another four years.
Redfish Lake, spawning habitat for endangered sockeye salmon and a popular tourist destination, was not in danger of contamination. The water table below the fuel station flows east or southeast beneath the fuel station, which is about a third of a mile northeast of the lake, according to a report from MAXIM Technologies, the site contractor.
Murray Feldman, a Boise attorney representing Redfish Lake Lodge, called the cleanup resolution "a good example of the process working."
"Did it take a little longer here?" he asked. "Yea. But not every site is blocked off for six months of the year because of snow. That part made it unique and a little harder. It was different from an urban station."
Officials do not know how long the leak occurred, but Clegg said it was something he probably inherited when his father-in-law, Arlen Crouch, purchased the resort in 1999.
Despite the unknown date the leak began, Clegg said he would take responsibility for it, and he did.
The lodge's management, a state gasoline-storage-tank insurance company and MAXIM worked proactively on the matter, although there was initial finger pointing about bureaucratic red tape that was alleged to have slowed the process.
According to Heaton, managers at Redfish detected the fuel leak in 2001 when they called a contractor to investigate why the fuel pumps were not working properly.
"And that's when they repaired it," Heaton said. "It's also when they reported it. I thought they were very responsive. Any time there's groundwater impact, it takes several years to clean up."
Katy McKinley, a DEQ remediation scientist, said seven 50-foot-deep wells were drilled to monitor groundwater around the fuel station. Additionally, drinking-water wells in the vicinity were checked.
"There was no impact to any drinking-water well," she said.
By November 2001, three wells had been sunk into the glacial moraine around Redfish Lake. Each of the first three wells contained detectable concentrations of petroleum hydrocarbons, the MAXIM report stated. Hazardous chemicals included benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, xylenes and naphthalene, most in small concentrations.
The chemicals are major components of gasoline.
Redfish Lake Lodge operates on a permit from the U.S. Forest Service, administered by the Sawtooth National Recreation Area.
Because Redfish managers adhered to state and federal cleanup regulations in a timely way, the permit was not in danger, said Dave Fluetsch, SNRA special uses administrator.
But it might not have been that way.
"Under the terms of the permit, they must comply with all applicable state laws," Fluetsch said. "If they had not complied with DEQ's direction, they would not have been in compliance."
What's more, the situation at the Redfish fuel station was not unique. Heaton, who called the leak "very common," said there are about 20 active fuel leak cleanup sites in his nine-county Southeast Idaho region.
In other states, the contamination may have been detected sooner, and that would have accelerated the ensuing cleanup, Heaton said.
"Idaho is the only state that doesn't regulate underground storage tanks," he said. "We have absolutely no oversight of tanks until they leak. And petroleum leaks from underground storage tanks account for about 95 percent of groundwater contamination nationally."
In other states, people at agencies like Idaho DEQ inspect the systems routinely. In Idaho, the Environmental Protection Agency inspects the tanks, but not at the level of scrutiny other states employ.
"The level of oversight is not as great," he said.
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