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EPA announces Poudre River cleanup agreement

Release Date: 11/10/2004
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      DENVER — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today announced that three parties have signed an agreement to clean up an oily, black substance in the Cache la Poudre River in Fort Collins.

Public Service Company of Colorado, doing business as Xcel Energy, has agreed to implement an $8.8 million workplan with help from Schrader Oil Company, as well as the City of Fort Collins, a non-liable property owner.

“This is good news — the river is being cleaned up, and it’s being done at no cost to taxpayers,” said Sharon Kercher, Director of the Technical Enforcement Program for the EPA Regional Headquarters in Denver. Kercher said that the cleanup parties have agreed to reimburse the EPA for public money previously spent on-site.

As a result of the agreement, the City of Fort Collins will be able to continue its consideration of the site for a new community center. The cleanup parties have agreed to take steps to ensure that workers, visitors and future building occupants are protected from contaminants that lie beneath properties in the area.

Contractors will remove contaminated sediment and bedrock from a 400- to 600-foot stretch of the Poudre River and build an underground permanent barrier wall. A barrier wall system will include groundwater control wells/pumps and an on-site water treatment system that will prevent the substance from moving around the wall and toward the river.

A recent investigation determined that the contaminants are likely remnants of coal tar, a waste product historically associated with the coal-to-gas conversion process. The Poudre Valley Gas Company, operated by a Public Service Co. predecessor, converted coal into fuel for home heating and city lights between 1904 and 1926.

The coal tar-like substance can be found in the vicinity of the former gas plant and continues at a depth of about 12 feet beneath the Northside Aztlan Community Center parking lot, located at 112 E. Willow. The contaminants appear to be making their way into the river by slowly moving through sediment and fractured bedrock that lies beneath the parking lot and former City landfill. The range of depths at which the contaminants have been observed beneath the landfill varies from 15 to 26 feet. Contaminants also are present in the groundwater.

The cleanup is expected to begin immediately and preliminary steps are already underway to prepare the area. Activities in the river need to be completed during the winter months when water flows are at their lowest and, as with investigation efforts last winter, the river will once again be diverted between December and April. Cleanup activities and restoration of the surrounding landscape will continue through June of 2005.

Paul Peronard, On-Scene Coordinator with the EPA said, “The barrier wall is a solution that will prevent contaminants from getting into the river, and it will remain hidden to visitors and recreational enthusiasts.” He also said that the southwest riverbank will be less steep once construction is completed, thus making it more accessible, and that non-native vegetation will be replaced with native species.

The work area is located along the river just east of the railroad trestle and west of Linden Street, behind the Northside Aztlan Community Center and United Way buildings. Contractors will keep this area of the river and the surrounding area closed to recreational activity throughout construction. Signs will be posted in English and Spanish to inform citizens and trail users about the project.

Citizens with questions or concerns about the project should contact Jennifer Lane, Community Involvement Coordinator for the EPA, at 1-800-227-8917, ext. 6813.