Major Cleanup Work Set to Begin at Fuel Spill Site

By Beacon Staff

POLSON – major cleanup project is scheduled to begin this week at the site of an April 2 truck accident that spilled nearly 6,400 gallons of gasoline along Montana Highway 35 near Flathead Lake.

Gasoline vapors have forced five families from their homes in the Finley Point area.

On Wednesday, crews are scheduled to begin excavating large amounts of soil that sit between some of the homes and the lake in an effort to remove 3,000 of the approximately 5,000 gallons of fuel that remain underground.

Environmental Partners of Issaquah, Wash., is coordinating the cleanup. Plans also include installing a trench along the shoreline to collect groundwater, which will be piped to a treatment facility. Crews will also install vapor recovery systems in the affected homes and cabins.

“We’re supposed to be back in by the end of the year,” said Ron Kohler, who along with his wife Barbara have been living in a rental a few miles away from the spill site. “They say the house should be livable by then, although the property will probably be torn up.”

All five homes may not be ready at the same time, cautioned Charles E. Hansberry of Missoula, the attorney for Keller Trucking of Billings, which owns the truck that spilled the fuel.

“It does depend on where they are and what impacts one house versus another,” he said. “One could test clean for vapors much sooner or later than others.”

The crash and fuel spill has renewed arguments by some east shore residents to ban or limit truck traffic on the winding highway between Polson and Bigfork.

Jim Lynch, director of the Montana Department of Transportation, said some restrictions can be made, but need federal approval because it’s a federally funded highway.

Recent studies show 85 percent of the drivers on Montana 35 exceed the posted speed limit of 50 mph, many by 7 mph to 10 mph, Lynch said.

Another complaint is that trucks with attached smaller trailers can’t always successfully stay in their lanes on the winding road.

Lynch said the Montana Motor Carriers Association, which opposes any truck limits on the highway, has agreed to help the department evaluate that criticism. They are going to drive 10 different types of trucks along the east shore of the lake while department employees following behind observing and video taping how they maneuver.

Once that is finished, Lynch hopes to put together a group of people to study all the date and make recommendations for Highway 35.