SD: Ethanol leak forces Watertown evacuation : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Ethanol leak forces Watertown evacuation By JENNIFER GERRIETTS and BRENDA WADE SCHMIDT

published: 6/22/00

WATERTOWN -- Stores and nearby residents were evacuated as crews worked all night Wednesday to clean up a Williams Pipe Line Corp. ethanol leak that dumped about 40,000 gallons of flammable fuel.

No one was injured, but fearing the possibility of fire from ethanol fumes, city officials closed down nearby businesses and evacuated about 100 residents of the Watertown Mobile Estates park near the plant.

"The risk of fire makes this a very hazardous situation," said Watertown Fire Chief Larry Anderson.

About 20,000 gallons of ethanol spilled out of a damaged valve at the Williams Pipe Line plant near 17th Street and Highway 212 before it was noticed early Wednesday morning.

The valve, which connects transport piping to a 750,000-gallon tank, was spilling 30 gallons per minute and could not be repaired until more of the tank was drained.

The area could be opened and companies back in business as soon as this morning, a spokesman for Williams Pipe Line said.

"We were able to speed up the transfer process," said Bob Berens with the pipeline company. "We were trying to drain that tank as quickly as we can."

Just last week, the same tank leaked and caused a fire, Berens said. The company was working on fixing the piping and planned to replace that valve before Wednesday's fuel spill, he said.

By late Wednesday night, the company expected the tank to be "buttoned up," and if there are no vapors, the fire chief might be able to declare the area open again, he said. No fuel was left standing on the ground.

Anderson said the fuel pooled behind a gravel dike surrounding the tanks. Crews used pump trucks to suck the ethanol out of the dike and the tank, while other workers placed sandbags around the leak to contain it in a smaller area.

Heavy winds, which forced the evacuations, also aided cleanup workers. Firefighters had to deal with less fumes and heat because of the wind.

"Blowing so hard, it vaporizes some of this stuff," said Watertown Police Capt. Dave Hegg. "It's a blessing for those guys."

David Schaeffer, Codington County Emergency Management Coordinator, said nearby residents and businesses probably would be kept out of the area overnight.

"We don't want to take the risk of bringing them back in and then having to evacuate them again," Schaeffer said.

Police closed off all roads leading into the area, waving customers away from the parking lots at the closed nearby stores, including Menards, Target, Paper Warehouse, Krantz Buick-Olds-Nissan, Williams Auto, Williams Carpet and Expressions Gallery.

Residents of the Watertown Mobile Estates park were greeted Wednesday morning by police officers and rescue employees who urged them to leave their homes. This was the second evacuation for residents, who were told to leave during last week's fire.

"They told us 'It's time again,' " said Remy Cory, who stopped by an emergency shelter set up by the Red Cross at the Knights of Columbus Hall.

Cory, who had spent the day running errands with his daughter Jovan, 9, and son Quanah, 11, said the family was frightened by the early morning knock on the door.

"We wondered if it was going to blow up, or something."

Lois Keizer, who has lived in the mobile-home park for 15 years, was planning to stay overnight with friends. She left with nothing but her purse and a book because last week's evacuation was done in a few hours.

"We've never had any problems like this before," Keizer said. "We sure didn't think we'd be gone all day."

About 30 people had lunch at a Red Cross lunch line Wednesday, said Judith Miller, chapter director. Volunteers began setting up cots for people who needed a place to sleep when officials gave word that the cleanup work would continue overnight.

"There all some people who don't have any place to go," Miller said.

Berens would not comment on whether the company will have any liability for the closure of businesses and evacuation of residents. He said the company's insurance claims adjuster would visit the site.

Williams will work with the state officials and the Environmental Protection Agency to clean up the area further. It could take months to clean up the soil, company officials said, and the cost could be at least $100,000.

"Really, right now we're in the emergency-response phase," Berens said. "We really don't even know how much got into the soil. It's going to take us a while to find out."

This isn't the first spill for the company, which paid the Sioux Falls School District $3 million over a spill that led to the abandonment of Hayward School. In 1986, 20,000 gallons of gasoline contaminated soil led to a 10-year cleanup process.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Reach reporter Jennifer Gerrietts at 331-2312 or

-- Martin Thompson (, June 22, 2000

Moderation questions? read the FAQ