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Pollution plan fails, says EPA

When a Fargo truck stop leaked more than 2,500 gallons of diesel fuel earlier this year, local, state and national agencies failed to adequately communicate despite prior planning, Environmental Protection Agency officials said Thursday.

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When a Fargo truck stop leaked more than 2,500 gallons of diesel fuel earlier this year, local, state and national agencies failed to adequately communicate despite prior planning, Environmental Protection Agency officials said Thursday.

As a result, rain carried fuel to the Red River, forcing Fargo and Moorhead's water plants to shut down for almost two weeks.

Flying J Travel Plaza, 3150 39th St. S.W., ended up paying about $60,000 for cleanup and water rerouting efforts, and could still be fined.

On Thursday, about 25 officials met in Fargo to discuss what went wrong with that situation and how future problems could better be handled.

The spill, first identified by employees on May 9, was "an average sort of spill for a large truck stop," said Bob Roy, a Denver-based EPA official.

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The EPA held Thursday's debriefing to check how a relatively new Red River Valley pollution contingency plan had worked, he said.

"The plan pretty much failed," said Martha Wolf of the Denver-based EPA.

Thursday, officials generated a list of "lessons learned" based on problems that included:

- Lack of communication with all necessary parties

- Public confusion in distinguishing the national EPA from local environmental agencies

- Ill preparation for a worst-case scenario.

The truck stop could have done some things a bit better, said Don Rognon, risk manager of Utah-based Flying J. It was committed to cleaning up the mess -- hiring a clean-up crew and monetarily compensating the water plants and emergency responders -- and cooperated with government agencies, he said.

The truck stop immediately contacted the state health department, but not the National Response Center, which they had a legal obligation to do, Roy said.

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The truck stop still doesn't know where the leak originated, but has recovered 2,500 gallons of fuel, Rognon said.

Fuel may have gotten into the sewer pipes when Flying J employees pumped rain water out of recovery wells -- designed to detect fuel leaks.

Employees were trying to prevent flooding in the truck stop's basement and didn't think fuel was in the water.

Flying J has spent $25,000 to install a pump that automatically stops when it detects fuel in the water, he said.

The truck stop may not be entirely responsible for the fuel release, said Kris Rogers, an environmental geologist with North Dakota's state health department.

The state used to allow gas stations to pump runoff water into the sewer systems, but made that illegal several years ago, he said. Flying J's employees may not have known that at the time, Rogers said. Employees didn't know the extent of the leak, either, Rognon said.

Neither did the state and local officials, who failed to immediately warn the water plants about the spill, said Miles Schacher, a Fargo environmental health specialist. Schacher said he believes less than 100 gallons of fuel actually made it to the river.

North Dakota's state health department said Flying J may still face a fine, Rogers said.

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"We'll negotiate what has to be done in the future," he said.

In April, Moorhead's Trucker's Inn, at the intersection of Interstate 94 and Highway 336, closed because thousands of gallons of fuel spilled on its property. A gas station across the street from Trucker's Inn -- the former Double D -- closed after fuel contamination was discovered beneath it in 1996.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Lisa Schneider at (701) 241-5529

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