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Farmington spill dumps diesel fuel into the Vermillion River

Firefighters place absorbent booms across the river to prevent fuel from spreading farther downstream. (Rivertown Newspaper Group photo by Michelle Leonard)1 / 3
Diesel fuel is visible as a rainbow-colored film on the surface of the water. (Rivertown Newspaper Group photo by Michelle Leonard)2 / 3
Farmington firefighters prepare an absorbent boom to float across the width of the Vermillion River in Farmington to stop the spread of diesel fuel that leaked into the river. (Rivertown Newspaper Group photo by Michelle Leonard)3 / 3

Farmington firefighters are working to clear diesel fuel out of the Vermillion River after receiving a report of a diesel spill around 10:15 a.m. Wednesday morning.

Farmington fire marshal John Powers was not sure how long the diesel had been seeping into the river, but firefighters tracing the fuel's path reported it had traveled past the Highway 3 bridge by 11 a.m.

The source of the contamination has been identified as a catch basin located on the Landscape Depot property on Fourth Street. According to Farmington police sergeant Kevin Mincke, the basin is still filled with fuel. He was unsure how much fuel is there, or how long it will take to remove it from the site.

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

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

In order to stop the spread of the fuel, firefighters are placing absorbent booms in the river to try to sop up some of the fuel. They started alongside the bridge over the Vermillion at the Kuchera Entrance to Rambling River Park, and are working their way to the west. Powers has contacted the Hastings Fire Department to bring more booms to the area, in hopes of stopping the spread before it gets too far downstream.

Powers has 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.

Cleanup of the spill requires two processes, Powers said. The first involves bringing in the subcontractor Beterman-Brownie Environmental Services to literally vacuum the diesel out of the river.

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 residue diesel 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.

Once the sewer system is cleared out, the cleanup of the catch basin and Landscape Depot property will begin. Because it is on private property, the MPCA officials will take over that cleanup process. Powers was unsure 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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