1,600 gallons of gas spills at Old Snowmass Conoco
OLD SNOWMASS, Colorado ” Nearly 1,600 gallons of premium unleaded gas spilled early Monday after a vehicle ran into a pump at the Old Snowmass Conoco and cracked a pipe in a hit-and-run accident, authorities said.
The driver fled the scene without turning off an emergency shut-off valve, which is designed to prevent such disasters. A Pitkin County deputy sheriff who responded turned off the valve and prevented a larger spill, according to Jerry Peetz, Basalt deputy fire chief. The accident occurred after 12:30 a.m., when the station was unattended.
Gas station owner Tony Brevetti showed a reporter where a vehicle slammed into the pump. The impact bent and cracked a pipe that led from an underground gas storage tank into the interior of the pump. A basin beneath the pump is designed to catch overflow gas in case of accidents. It holds about 60 gallons and overflowed, Brevetti said. He was uncertain how long the broken pipe was hemorrhaging gas before it was discovered and stopped.
The gasoline ran down the station’s parking lot, toward the intersection of Highway 82 and Snowmass Creek Road, then past a bus stop and into a storm drain near a bridge across the creek. All the gas stayed on the south side of the highway. A small amount of gas flowed over the bridge and possibly into the ditch on the downvalley end. As of late Monday afternoon, officials believed an ecological disaster had been averted.
“Right now it has been confirmed there was no contamination of Snowmass Creek or the Roaring Fork River,” said Nancy Shanks, a spokeswoman for the Colorado Department of Transportation. The state agency owns property affected by the spill.
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Crews from CDOT and ECOS, a private environmental and disaster restoration firm hired by Brevetti, were trying to determine where the fuel migrated after the spill.
CDOT moved a track hoe into place at the bridge Monday afternoon in preparation for digging up snow and dirt next to the stream Tuesday. Shanks said CDOT officials on the site suspect that the fuel went into a drop drain that led to a sediment basin beside the creek. With luck, the fuel pooled there. If so, the contaminated soil will be removed. ECOS inserted a barrier to Monday to try to prevent seepage of fuel into the stream.
Kendall Ross, an aquatic biologist with the Colorado Division of Wildlife, inspected the site Monday morning and again in the afternoon. “I walked around the stream and didn’t see any dead fish,” she said. There was no residue on the water from fuel, either, she said.
That amount of fuel would have killed invertebrate insects as well as fish, had reached the creek, Ross said. It potentially could have affected a short stretch of the Roaring Fork River as well before dispersing, she said, as the confluence of the creek and the river are nearby.
Ross said there is still a danger the pooled fuel could leech into the stream. “I’m not sure we completely dodged the bullet,” she said.
The spill was reported at about 3 a.m. A Hispanic male who spoke very little English called the dispatch center for the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office from the Basalt 7-Eleven and reported he saw fuel spilling but said he didn’t cause the accident, according to deputy sheriff Joe Bauer.
The Basalt Fire Department played a major role in cleaning up the mess. Two engines and seven firefighters to the scene at about 3:30 a.m. They dammed the storm drain where the gas was headed, and used absorbent pads and a substance called oil dry, which is like kitty litter, to soak up the spilled fuel, Peetz said. The fuel had traveled about 500 feet across pavement, he estimated.
“We dodged two bullets there: We didn’t have an explosion and fire, and (fuel) didn’t make it to the waterways,” Peetz said.
The identify of the driver is unknown. “We have zero leads,” Bauer said.
There is no outdoor surveillance system at the gas station. Brevetti said the damaged pump was last used at about 12:30 a.m. with a purchase via credit card. It is unknown if that purchase was related to the problem. Brevetti said the information was given to police. He said who ever drove away with gas leaking was “totally morally bankrupt.”
Each pump has a sticker saying the emergency shut-off is located at the front of the gas station. That valve is clearly marked on the storefront.
The spilled gas had an estimated street value of $4,100. The station is currently charging $2.59 for a gallon of premium unleaded. Brevetti also lost sales of gas all day Monday and traffic into the convenience store and liquor store was restricted during repairs and clean-up. Traffic was restricted but not closed on upvalley Highway 82 and Snowmass Creek Road. The upvalley bus stop was closed.
Brevetti was uncertain if insurance will cover his losses. “I’ve got a feeling we’re going to take it in the shorts,” he said.