By Stan Welch
Approximately one hundred and twenty five area residents joined county and DHEC officials at the Cedar Grove Elementary School Tuesday night for an update on the Plantation Pipeline cleanup efforts.
County Council members Ray Graham (D3), Cindy Wilson (D7) and Chairman Tommy Dunn (D5) were joined by a handful of DHEC engineers and staffers. No representatives of Kinder Morgan were present at the meeting,
Don Siron, assistant chief of the Bureau of Land and Waste Management, anticipated some of the public comments to come by informing the crowd that DHEC had personnel at the spill site on the day that it was discovered. He offered no explanation for the fact that a private citizen, and not pipeline officials, discovered the leak, after almost four hundred thousand gallons of gasoline had been released into the environment.
He also explained that such cleanups are a long process, and that the current cleanup, which has been underway for two years now, still has a long way to go. Siron, as well as other DHEC staffers, conceded that DHEC will be involved in cleanup and monitoring efforts fr as long as another ten years.
“The actual size of the spill is only an estimate, but we at DHEC have a very good handle on what needs to be done here. You have our commitment that we are here to stay until this situation is resolved. The protection of our resources and the safety of the people impacted are our priorities.”
He then turned the presentation over to Mihir Mehta, director of the underground storage tank management division, to explain what Kinder Morgan has done and will be doing to complete the cleanup.
Mehta explained about surface water and ground water, and how petroleum products tend to gather on the surface of ground water, but that petroleum can mingle with water below the ground. He informed the crowd that the blowout in the pipeline, which occurred near the intersection of Lewis Drive and Calhoun Road, was repaired within a few days of its discovery.
He also reassured the crowd that the extent of the contamination had been determined, and that there are no private wells within a thousand foot radius of the spill site. “We are very confident that no drinking wells are being affected. The nearest well is fourteen hundred feet away,and it is at a depth of five hundred feet.”
As part of the cleanup and monitoring efforts so far, Mehta said that 2800 tons of contaminated soil have been removed from the area. Ninety eight monitoring wells and a total of thirty five product recovery wells have been installed. “We are very confident that we know the scope of this contamination.”
He also informed the crowd that Broadway Lake has not been tested, because the monitoring wells have shown that the spill is contained fairly close to the original site. By the end of a long meeting, it had been agreed that more testing towards Broadway Lake , which is about ten miles away, would be done.
Councilwoman Wilson has persistently questioned DHEC’s transparency about the event and its aftermath, even going so far as to say that DHEC seemed willing to accept Kinder Morgan’s viewpoints as gospel.
She appears to be changing her mind after last night’s meeting. In a telephone conversation Wednesday morning, she conceded that “Some remarkable things happened here last night. DHEC brought some very key people in this area of their operations. And they have made it clear that they will be doing independent testing of water samples. Most importantly, they have established a web page specific to this spill and they have made it clear that they are willing to continue to hold these sort of meetings to inform the people. It is a very significant and welcome change.”
Mehta made several points in his presentation that support Wilson’s changing attitude. Key among them was his assurance that DHEC would be involved in sample splitting, meaning that while Kinder Morgan will use the consultant and testing firm that they have hired, DHEC will also test the same samples and reach their own objective conclusions.
That concession addressed a major concern that Councilman Ray Graham had expressed in the past.
Wilson was quick to praise Graham Wednesday morning, saying that he has been very engaged in this issue, despite having been on Council for just a month. “He has hit the ground running on this matter, doing research and walking the ground. It’s very encouraging to see his level of involvement.”
Mehta also stated that Kinder Morgan would be asked to provide an amended action plan which addresses concerns expressed during the extended public comment period, as well as the input received at Tuesday night’s meeting.
Though none were present at the meeting, Wilson, Graham and county staffers continue to seek a meeting with representatives of Kinder Morgan.
Wilson also reported that the next public meeting will be scheduled during a recess of the General Assembly,so that members of the local legislative delegation can attend.