5 years after catastrophic fuel leak in Gunnison, cleanup far from over

Published: Friday, Nov. 2 2012 10:10 p.m. MDT

Utah Department of Environmental Quality representatives visit with Gunnison residents concerned about the progress of the cleanup from a leaking underground gasoline tank at a former Top Stop convenience store Nov. 1, 2012. The property is now owned by Gunnison and is being transformed into a public gathering place on Main Street.

Sam Penrod, Deseret News

GUNNISON — Five years ago, an estimated 30,000 gallons of gasoline leaked out of an underground tank at a gas station, and the vapors severely affected neighboring homes and businesses.

Today, cleanup is still going on at the Top Stop at 15 S. Main.

When the underground tank ruptured in July 2007, dangerous vapors began seeping into nearby shops and homes. Stores closed weeks later, and one family was forced out of its home.

The Top Stop building has since been torn down. Gunnison, which gained ownership of the property as part of a settlement, is turning the area into a park and improving Main Street. But underground, the environmental cleanup is far from over.

Crews are hard at work on the corner lot, turning it into what will be known as Market Square, a gathering place along Gunnison's Main Street.

"It is going to be a vibrant core to our downtown, and we are going to take what was to begin with a big disaster and create something we can be proud of," Gunnison Mayor Lori Nay said.

Top Stop settled out of court with the community, but it covered just a fraction of what people say their losses have been. Still, Top Stop is on the hook for the cleanup, supervised by the Utah Department of Environmental Quality.

"It looks like the plume has been reduced by 70-80 percent just in an aerial extent," said Morgan Atkinson, a DEQ engineer.

Property owners such as Kim Pickett question why the state's involvement has been limited to overseeing the environmental cleanup.

"My biggest concern is how the whole thing was handled from day one," Pickett said. "They basically let the people who did the spill determine the direction they are going, and I just don't think that is a good policy."

But Pickett and other Gunnison residents are trying to look forward, hoping that Top Stop is now in the rear-view mirror.

"It was really difficult, but I think we are on the road to recovery," Nay said.

Landscapers will put in trees and plants over the next few weeks, and Market Square should be open by the end of November, officials said.

Email: spenrod@ksl.com

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