Forest Service concerned about number of recent crashes in the relatively untainted North Fork watershed
* This story has been updated with additional information. EPA officials said they will visit the site to see if there are any long-term concerns.
By Bob Berwyn
SUMMIT COUNTY — Clean up crews working on containing a diesel spill at Loveland Pass stepped up their efforts late in the week to try and prevent any trace amounts of contaminants from reach the North Fork.
About 2,100 gallons of diesel leaked from a tanker that crashed on the hairpin turn above A-Basin last week.
Forest Service spokesman Pat Thrasher said the agency has a general level of concern over the number of tanker crashes on Loveland Pass, especially given the agency’s mandate to protect aquatic habitat in the North Fork for brook trout and rare boreal toads.
The latest crash didn’t raise particular concerns because of the location, said White River National Forest spokesman Pat Thrasher.
“One of the keys is, does the spill reach open water,” Thrasher said, explaining that Forest Service involvement depends on the scope and severity of the incident.
Friday afternoon, a team of workers with Belfor Environmental Services were working along Highway 6 near the Arapahoe Basin base lodge to skim any remnants of diesel fuel from a runoff ditch alongside the highway. Experts were also checking wells in the same area. The wells were installed after a previous tanker crash and spill in almost the same spot. Last August, another tanker crashed near the summit of the pass. In that wreck, the fuel caught fire and emergency crews let it burn as a way to eliminate potential water pollution.
Earlier efforts to contain the fuel from the latest crash may have been hampered by swift runoff in the uncontrolled ditch alongside the highway. By late Friday, the cleanup crews had created a series of small catch-ponds that will help slow the water and make the absorbent booms more effective.
A Colorado State Patrol hazardous materials expert previously said diesel fuel spills in a stream are often visible as an oily film if they reach open water. Officials said they believed that none of the diesel fuel reached the North Fork, but there was no on-site monitoring of the pristine stream immediately following the spill.
“Any spill could be harmful to aquatic life, depending how serious it is,” Thrasher said.
Pete Stephens, an on-scene coordinator with the EPA, said he’s been updated on the situation by phone and plans to visit the crash site to determine whether long-term remediation is required.
“My understanding is, nothing reached the river,” Stephens said. Long-term issues could include continued bleeding of fuel out of the ground. Remediation options include enhanced biological degradation, a vapor extraction system and monitoring wells to assess impacts to ground water.
Filed under: Arapahoe Basin, Environment, rivers, Summit County Colorado, transportation, US Forest Service Tagged: | diesel spills, Environment, Loveland Pass, North Fork, Summit County Colorado, Summit County News, tanker wrecks, water quality