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5 years after massive gas leak, Gunnison still cleaning up


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GUNNISON — Five years ago, KSL broke the story of tens of thousands of gallons of gasoline that had leaked out of an underground tank and disrupted life in Gunnison.

The vapors severely affected nearby homes and businesses, and the cleanup is still not complete, although there has been progress.

The Top Stop building has been torn down — the city got this property as part of a settlement and is turning it into a park and improving Main Street. But underground, the environmental cleanup is still far from over.

Crews are hard at work on the corner lot, turning it into what will be known as Market Square, a gathering place along Gunnison's Main Street.

"It is going to be a vibrant core to our downtown and we are going to take what was to begin with a big disaster, and create something we can be proud of," said Gunnison Mayor Lori Nay.

Five years ago, this area was an environmental mess. The underground gasoline tank from the Top Stop convenience store sent an estimated 30,000 gallons of gasoline underneath homes and Main Street shops.

Top Stop settled out of court with the community - but it covered just a fraction of what people say their losses have been. Still, Top Stop is on the hook for the cleanup, supervised by the State's Department of Environmental Quality.

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"It looks like the plume has been reduced by 70–80 percent just in an aerial extent," said Morgan Atkinson with the Department of Environmental Quality. "We will have a better idea with the corrective action plan that is going to be required to be submitted in the next month or so, we will have a plan moving forward of how wind river and their consultant intend to address that."

Property owners like Kim Pickett question why the state's involvement has been to only to oversee the environmental cleanup and believes the state should have made the decisions about the remediation.

"My biggest concern is how the whole thing was handled from day one," Pickett said. "They basically let the people who did the spill determine the direction they are going, and I just don't think that is a good policy."

But Pickett, like most people in Gunnison, are trying to look forward, hoping that Top Stop is now in the rear view mirror.

"It was really difficult, but I think we are on the road to recovery, and you need to come down and see what Gunnison is like," Nay said.

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Sam Penrod

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