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Diesel fuel leaks into the Vermillion River

Farmington firefighters spread an absorbent boom across the Vermillion River to soak up the diesel fuel that leaked into the river Wednesday morning.1 / 4
The rainbow sheen of diesel fuel is visible on the surface of the Vermillion River.2 / 4
Firefighters prepare booms to absorb the diesel fuel that leaked into the Vermillion River.3 / 4
The environmental service contractor Beterman Brownie, Inc. was called in to "vacuum" diesel from the Vermillion River as part of Wednesday's cleanup efforts. The company returned to Farmington on Thursday to continue the work.4 / 4

Farmington firefighters and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency had a busy day March 21. They had to clear diesel fuel out of the Vermillion River after receiving a report of a spill that morning.

Farmington firefighters were called to the Kuchera Entrance of Rambling River around 10:15 a.m. after a city employee working in the park detected the scent of diesel and spotted the multi-colored swirl of fuel in the river.

Farmington fire marshal John Powers does not know how long the diesel had been seeping into the river, but firefighters tracing the fuel's path reported it had travelled past Biscayne Avenue in Empire Township.

The source of the contamination was identified as a catch basin located on the Landscape Depot property owned by Collin Garvey, on Fourth Street. The basin was still filled with fuel when Farmington police sergeant Kevin Mincke arrived at the site. He was unsure how much fuel was there, or how long it would take to remove it from the site.

The fuel traveled from the catch basin to the river through the city's sewer system. It entered the Vermillion just north of Pine Street.

"There's still quite a bit here," Mincke said Wednesday. "I don't have any guess on how much we're looking at, storage wise."

In order to stop the spread of the leak, firefighters placed absorbent booms in the river to sop up some of the fuel. They started alongside the bridge over the Vermillion at the Kuchera Entrance, and worked their way west. The Hastings Fire Department brought more booms, in hopes of stopping the spread before it got too far downstream.

Powers also contacted the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and Dakota County in hopes of finding some assistance. The MPCA called in environmental cleanup contractor Bay West to help remove some of the diesel from the river and from the catch basin on the Landscape Depot site.

The first objective, Powers said, was to flush the diesel from the sewer system. That meant the sewer system was turned off in the area. Firefighters then hooked a hose to a nearby hydrant and started to run water through the sewer to push the remaining fuel toward the river.

"It's floating on top of the water so they're going to vacuum off the top as it comes out," Powers explained at the scene.

Once the sewer system was cleared out, the cleanup of the catch basin and Landscape Depot property was to begin. Because it is on private property, the MPCA officials will take over that cleanup process. Powers did not know how much work that will take because by late afternoon, he was still unable to determine how much diesel fuel was on the site.

"It's hard to tell, without an investigation at that site, just how much is there," he said.

The catch basin is located on property used as a scrap metal recycling business operated by Cole Empey. Empey said his employees do not dump fuel into the catch basin when they recycle the trucks and other scrap metal they take in. He said he asks that tanks from old vehicles are emptied before he gets them. If they are not, there are two holding tanks on site that fuel is drained into. That fuel is reused, Empey said.

"I won't take vehicles unless people tell me they're drained," he said.

Powers has also notified the Environmental Protection Agency of the spill.

The diesel did not spread to the east.

Michelle Leonard

Michelle Leonard joined the Woodbury Bulletin staff in November, 2014, after 14 years covering news for the Bulletin's sister publication, the Farmington Rosemount Independent Town Pages.  Michelle earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Mass Communications: News-Editorial from Mankato State University in 1991. She is an active member of the American Legion Auxiliary Clifford Larson Unit 189 of Farmington, and served as the 2014-15 Third District President to the American Legion Auxiliary Department of Minnesota. Michelle is also the volunteer coordinator for the Minnesota Newspaper Museum which is open annually during the Minnesota State Fair. She has earned Minnesota Newspaper Association awards in Investigative Reporting, Local News Coverage, Feature Photography and Column Writing. 

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