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Gas leak at South Shore station

Michael Schneider

A careless gas pumper forced the closure of the Beacon gas station’s pumps at U.S. Highway 50 and Winnemucca in South Lake Tahoe Thursday.

Station Manager Larry Benner said a motorist, after gassing up his or her car at 10 p.m. Wednesday, drove off with the pump nozzle still attached to the vehicle.

“Last night I got a call from my employee who said, ‘Number nine’s beginning to leak,'” Benner said.

The manager said he followed Beacon guidelines by turning off the pump and putting absorbent paper around the leak. A repairman from Sacramento was expected at the station Thursday afternoon, Benner said.

Early Thursday morning, Benner said the gas had stopped leaking but when the station received an 8,800-gallon load of gasoline from Sacramento, it again began to leak.

Because the gas from Sacramento is warmer, Benner said it expanded when it was pumped into the station’s storage tanks, forcing resumption of the leak.

Lisa Dernbach, engineering geologist with the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board, said if there was a discharge to the surface water, the station could be fined.

The runoff from the station’s area of U.S. Highway 50 flows to wetlands behind Grand Auto, Dernbach said.

Dernbach said it won’t be known if the samples taken from the wetlands are contaminated for two weeks.

Virginia Huber, Tahoe division manager of the El Dorado County Environmental Management Department, arrived at 11:25 a.m. Thursday to shut down the station’s pumps.

Huber said the nozzle is leaking about a gallon of gas every hour and 15 minutes. The broken nozzle was resting in a bucket about half full with gas at 1 p.m. Thursday.

Although Benner said the pump was leaking only for a short time Wednesday night and then again after the load was delivered Thursday morning, Dawn Forsythe, spokeswoman for the South Tahoe Public Utility District, said a well two blocks away from the station was shut down.

“We have nothing to go on as to how much gas was leaked,” Forsythe said, saying Huber told her it was possible up to 20 gallons may have leaked from the station if the leak was continuous since Wednesday night.

Huber, sitting in a Hazmat van at the broken pump, pointed to the liquid trail leading to the street and confirmed some gas had gotten into the storm drain.

Benner said that if the pump was fixed by Thursday afternoon, the station would still be out a couple thousand gallons in gas sales.

The station’s mini-market remained open throughout the pump closures.

Forsythe said the closed well won’t be operational until some time next week when STPUD knows the impact of the spill on the well, if any.

She said because most of the winter visitors have left for the season, water for the surrounding neighborhood can be drawn from other sources so there will be no impact for residents.

Dernbach said her agency has had dealings with the gas station for many years.

“They had bad soil and groundwater,” Dernbach said. “But they’ve been slowly cleaning it up.

“They’ll have to take samples to see if their groundwater pollution increased.”

Tahoe Daily Tribune E-mail: tribune@tahoe.com

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