North Meridian Road between West Center Street and West Idaho Street was shut down due to a mysterious and potentially dangerous gas smell that has been getting worse for days.
Initially reported on Saturday, the smell, evident as far north as Three Mile Drive, “finally has gotten to a point where we feel it’s strong enough we’ve got to isolate it and find out what it is,” said Kalispell Human Resources Director and acting City Manager Terry Mitton. City Manager Jim Patrick is on vacation.
“It’s starting to reach explosive levels,” Mitton added. “We said ‘That’s enough of that.’”
A command center is setting up at the Tire-Rama on North Meridian, the Hazardous Materials Team is on its way, and the state Department of Environmental Quality has been alerted, Mitton said.
Investigators have already inspected gas stations in the immediate vicinity and they are all meeting current standards, Mitton said, adding, “If they’re all OK, where’s the stuff coming from?”
The petroleum-based smell is emitting from storm drains, yet doesn’t seem to be diluting or growing weaker. Mitton speculated that an old fuel tank from a gas station long since closed may have ruptured. He is also concerned that if the smell moves north, he would have to close a portion of U.S. Highway 2 West, which would severely disrupt the city’s traffic.
The businesses along the closed road remain open, but authorities are asking people to steer clear of the area. That section of Meridian could be closed “anywhere from four hours to days,” Mitton said.
In the meantime, emergency response officials are at work trying to find the smell’s source.
“It’s going to be the needle in the haystack until we get it isolated,” Mitton said.
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