Michigan authorities struggle to contain gas spill

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Michigan authorities struggle to contain gas spill

By AMY FRANKLIN, Associated Press

JACKSON, Mich. (June 13, 2000 6:21 p.m. EDT http://www.nandotimes.com) - As workers Tuesday continued repairs on a ruptured gasoline pipeline that provides about 30 percent of the state's gas, officials said a quick reaction to the spill prevented a larger disaster.

Repairs to the 16-inch pipeline should be completed by Thursday, allowing gasoline to flow from Chicago to Detroit for the first time in more than a week, said Ron Embry, a chemical engineer for Wolverine Pipe Line Co., which owns the system.

Workers caught much of the 75,000 gallons of spilled gasoline before it reached ground and surface water, said Ralph Dollhopf, a coordinator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The Grand River did not sustain heavy damage, he said.

Although the Jackson County Health Department doesn't believe any of the ground water or water wells were polluted by the spill, the department is providing free bottled water to residents, said Ted Westmeier, a county health officer.

Most residents of the 500 homes that were evacuated had returned home by Monday. Officials were still investigating the safety of two homes near a pond that had heavy gasoline seepage.

"Returning 600 families within a four-day period, and checking each home individually, was really a major accomplishment," Dollhopf said.

Gov. John Engler lifted Tuesday the local state of emergency he declared last week for Jackson County's Blackman Township.

"For the residents who have been directly affected by the gasoline pipeline rupture, life can now return to normal," Engler said.

Officials said that environmental testing will continue around the area.

Last Wednesday's spill forced the closing of the pipeline that brings in 7 million gallons of gas to the state each day. The spill helped drive Michigan gasoline prices above $2 a gallon.

Wolverine officials originally had planned to get the pipe fixed by last weekend. But that deadline had to be pushed back.

"The work is going a little slower than we had hoped, but with safety being as important as it is, we are committed to doing the work at the pace it's at," Embry said.

Within three hours of the spill last Wednesday, several EPA officials were in Jackson, Jackson County Sheriff Hank Zavislak said. At the peak of efforts to contain the spill, 300 workers were at the site.

The company's repair plan must be approved by the U.S. Department of Transportation's Office of Pipeline Safety, and the repair must be inspected before the line can be reopened, officials said.

Without the pipeline to transport gasoline, between 120 and 200 tanker trucks are carrying 12,000 gallons of gasoline out of Jackson every 24 hours, Zavislak said.

Neither the county officials nor Wolverine representatives have estimated the total cost of the spill.

Senate Democrats on Tuesday reacted to the spike in gasoline prices by announcing the formation of a task force to investigate the high cost of fuel in Michigan.

Senate Democratic Leader John Cherry of Clio said gasoline prices vary a lot among the states. He said the group will investigate why the differences exist and find ways to lower the cost of gasoline in Michigan.


-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), June 14, 2000

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