By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
Diesel fuel leaked into the Oconaluftee River from the Cherokee Mini-Mart underground storage tanks over a month ago. The leak occurred on April 2 and was discovered a day later.
“On April 3, Petroleum product was identified along the river bank by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians’ Office of Environment and Natural Resources (OENR) regulatory specialist,” stated information in a statement from the EBCI Natural Resources and Construction program on Thursday, May 14. “Testing and analysis was completed by the OENR staff to verify the source of the petroleum product. The testing revealed that the petroleum product was leaking from both the diesel and gas USTs (underground storage tanks) of the Cherokee Mini-Mart.”
According to Jeremy Hyatt, EBCI Natural Resources and Construction program director, “We estimate that the release was about 100 gallons, but it is impossible to say exactly the amount. We did have fuel get into the river, but at this point, according to OENR and EPA, the amount appears very small and the environmental impact is minimal.”
Hyatt said the tanks are empty and have been “since shortly after the leak was discovered”, and he said a cause of the leaks will not be known until the tanks can be further examined once they are removed.
When asked about health ramifications, Hyatt commented, “There have been no reports of any sickness due to the leak. The area is still open to fishermen, but the immediate area is not open to swimmers.”
Hyatt said the Cherokee Mini-Mart is not currently facing any fines. “It is unknown, at this time, when the release will be completely cleaned up.”
He added, “The incident was reported to all proper authorities (local, state and federal) immediately after the release was detected.”
Information from OENR states, “The Environmental Protection Agency Region 4 Emergency Spill Response program, along with EBCI Emergency Management, were on-site during the initial phase of clean-up to ensure the proper actions were taken to contain the release. Initially, the NEO Corporation was hired to contain and remove the petroleum product. Mountain Environmental Group is currently overseeing the continued containment and clean-up of the petroleum and progress is carefully being monitored by the EBCI Office of Environment and Natural Resources and EBCI Emergency Management.”