ALBANY COUNTY CLEAN WATER ADVOCATES TO PRESENT INFORMATION ON TUMBLEWEED

Albany County Clean Water Advocates (ACCWA) will present information on the re-opening of the former Tumbleweed Express gas station at a community meeting on Wednesday, July 24, at 7 pm in the Albany County Public Library meeting room.

The former gas station is located over the Casper Aquifer, which provides at least half of our community’s drinking water.

Topics to be covered include the basic geology of the Casper Aquifer Protection Area, the importance of preventing contamination of our drinking water aquifer, and the zoning regulations the county could use to stop the gas station from re-opening.

“Gas stations now are prohibited within the aquifer protection area, and for good reason,” said Sarah Gorin, ACCWA vice-president. “Re-opening this gas station means that 33,000 gallons of fuel will be constantly sitting right on top of our drinking water aquifer.”

 ACCWA believes that the Albany County Zoning Resolution now in place gives the county the authority to address the threat presented by re-starting operations at the former gas station.

An extensive library of documents pertaining to protection of the Casper Aquifer can be found on ACCWA’s website at albanycountycleanwateradvocates.org. For more information, email albanyctycleanwateradvocates@gmail.com.

ACCWA CALLS ON COUNTY TO STOP GAS STATION IN AQUIFER PROTECTION AREA

The failure to provide continuous fuel sales and the lack of a necessary license show that allowing the former Tumbleweed Express gas station to re-open is contrary to Albany County’s zoning laws, according to Albany County Clean Water Advocates (ACCWA).

“We are about to have 33,000 gallons of fuel placed on top of one of the most fragile parts of the aquifer that provides drinking water to the vast majority of Albany County residents,” said Martin Greller, ACCWA president. “We all are anxious to know why the county is not addressing this threat, when the purpose of the 2003 Aquifer Protection Overlay Zone was to provide such protection.”

Greller noted that gas stations now are prohibited in the aquifer protection zone. “Tumbleweed’s new owners claim that the station is grandfathered – that is, the station was in operation when the aquifer protection zone was established, and has been in continuous operation ever since – but public documents show otherwise.”

“To maintain its grandfathered status, the gas station has to remain in active and continuous operation,” Greller said. “Tumbleweed’s own reports show that it has not been in continuous operation as a gas station for at least the last four years.”

ACCWA’s research shows that during the last four years, Tumbleweed did not sell fuel for at least five months in each year, and none in 2018. Even more striking are the amounts of fuel dispensed. An average gas station sells something like 4,000 gallons a day, whereas Tumbleweed sold less than this amount in most of the months that it sold gas at all.

“Whatever business was being operated during this period, it was certainly something other than a normal gas station. It did not feature the selling of much gas,” said Greller. “So, if there were a use to be grandfathered, it would be one that involved very limited distribution of fuel.”

“What’s more, the station did not have a weights and measures license for its fuel pumps as required by state law from March 2009 to January 2018,” Greller said. “This means that even if Tumbleweed’s sales of fuel had been continuous, all of its fuel sales were unlicensed. I think most people would agree that if you’re trying to prove a business should be grandfathered based on its continuous operation, that operation must at least have been legal.”

“When the county learned that the facility was being renovated by a new owner and these new owners paid no attention to a cease and desist order, the county went to court to seek an

injunction. However, they backed off.” Greller speculated that the reason the county did so was the threat of a “takings” lawsuit from Tumbleweed’s attorneys.

“The threatened lawsuit is purely intimidation,” Greller said. “Basically, their threat says the U.S. Constitution prohibits zoning. If that were true, there would be no zoning in the entire United States. Clearly that isn’t the case.”

“However, the new owners showed their hand when they filed the suit, claiming $2.3 million in damages,” said Greller. “Whatever their plans, the size of a business that could experience $2.3 million in damages is well beyond the scope of a normal gas station and certainly vastly greater than that of the Tumbleweed over the last four years.”

“The county started down the right road in enforcing its zoning against the former Tumbleweed,” said Greller. “Let’s get back on that road.”

ACCWA will have a booth at the Freedom Has A Birthday celebration in Washington Park on July 4. Additional information on the aquifer can be found on ACCWA’s website at albanycountycleanwateradvocates.org.

Statement of Albany County Clean Water Advocates on County Action Regarding Tumbleweed Express

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

ACCWA supports the Albany County Commissioners’ proposed temporary moratorium on further development in the aquifer protection zone.

However, ACCWA believes that the Albany County Zoning Resolution now in place gives the county the authority to address the threat presented by re-starting operations at the gas station formerly known as Tumbleweed Express in the aquifer protection zone.

Now that the Albany County and Prosecuting Attorney is withdrawing the complaint for injunction filed by the county to stop activity at the Tumbleweed site, ACCWA believes the county should consider other remedies.

Tumbleweed’s attorneys have aggressively pursued its interests, and have asserted that the county has no authority over Tumbleweed’s activities because the gas station is “grandfathered” – that is, it existed before the aquifer protection zone was designated, and therefore has the right to continue.

This is true to a point, and in fact Tumbleweed’s operations did continue for about five years after the aquifer protection zone was created. But a business is defined by many aspects, and the changes to the previous Tumbleweed Express business have yet to be explored.

Everyone acknowledges that the fuel dispensing pumps at Tumbleweed have not been licensed as required by state law since 2009. Consequently, any fuel sales after that date were illegal. Although apparently some other licenses were kept current, it seems obvious that the essence of a gas station is to sell gas.

Surely the county does not wish to send the message that it can be “barreled over” as was described in today’s special county commission meeting, especially for a use that was continued illegally and is now flatly prohibited in the aquifer protection zone because it is an obvious threat to public health.

ACCWA calls upon the county commissioners to reinstate action to prevent Tumbleweed Express from resuming operation and creating a substantial hazard to our drinking water supply from the Casper Aquifer.

An extensive library of documents pertaining to protection of the Casper Aquifer can be found on ACCWA’s website at albanycountycleanwateradvocates.org.

Pilot Hill Agreement

On September 6, 2017, the Albany County Commissioners signed a purchase agreement to buy approximately 5000 acres east of town from several holding companies owned by the former Warren Land and Livestock Company (now Doug Samuelson). The acreage connects the eastern edge of Laramie to the Medicine Bow National Forest and would provide excellent outdoor recreation opportunities as well as aquifer protection (the proposed purchase covers about 13% of the aquifer protection area). The purchase price is $14 million - about $2500/acre - and the county has a year to raise the money (currently the county has no funds available for this kind of project). City Land Contract DRAFT

The county commissioners appointed a "supercommittee" comprised of local leaders to manage the fundraising effort. The supercommittee is chaired by State Senator Chris Rothfuss and includes State Representative Dan Furphy, City Councilor Bryan Shuster, UW Trustee Kermit Brown, County Commissioner Terri Jones, Laramie Rivers Conservation District director Tony Hoch, and former State Supreme Court Justice Marilyn Kite. Other community members can participate on subcommittees focused on aquifer protection/wildlife/recreation, economic development, and communications. The Wyoming Community Foundation will act as the fiscal agent for contributions toward the purchase, thereby making these contributions potentially tax-deductible for the donor.
At their December 6th meeting, the supercommittee decided to develop a website to facilitate public input (location to be announced).

2017 Suggestion to Build a New Car Dealership

The City of Laramie Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) ultimately decided that they would not “relax” the Casper Aquifer Protection Plan (Table 15.08.040.A Prohibited Activities.)  list of prohib uses

The proposal to relax Prohibited Uses was based on a memo by a city consultant and supported by City Planning staff. The memo and subsequent staff proposal would have allowed application to develop over the Aquifer and allow for “Project Specific Report Eligibility.”

If this recommendation had been adopted, developers could have bypassed the prohibited activities to allow use and storage of hazardous materials over the aquifer. The final decision means that new businesses that use or store hazardous wastes will not be allowed to operate over the aquifer.

This decision was recommended by the Environmental Advisory Committee, urged by ACCWA and hundreds of citizens in petitions, letters to the editor, and attendance at scheduled meetings and was finally made by the City P&Z.

Has the Casper Aquifer Been Contaminated?

HAS THE AQUIFER BEEN CONTAMINATED?

The 2013 East Laramie Waste Water Feasibility Study evaluated 115 private wells and found that “approximately 65% of the East Grand area wells that were sampled show nitrate contamination, with 4% of the wells exceeding the EPA Drinking Water Standard for nitrates which is 10 mg/l.”  [link]

Background nitrate concentrations fall between 0 and 2 mg/l.  Recent monitor well data on the east side of Laramie encountered concentrations as high as 8.7 mg/l, but there are very few wells specifically designed to monitor aquifer contamination.

Regular sampling of the Laramie municipal supply wells has shown little indication of contamination, although an increasing trend in nitrates has been suggested [report link] and comprehensive sampling for the full suite of possible contaminants is quite rare.

ACCWA has concluded that historical aquifer contamination is largely confined to local areas of septic system recharge, but does not accept “barely legal” as an acceptable drinking water quality goal.  We recognize the great value of the present, generally high quality of the Casper Aquifer, and seek to maintain that quality through appropriate preventative management strategies.

Risks to our Water Supply

Septic system effluent, highway accidents, hazardous chemicals, animal waste, herbicides, pesticides, “urban runoff”, chemical spills, and improper chemical disposal can all add contaminants to the aquifer.  The CAPP includes discussion and a local inventory [link].  Standard hydrogeology textbooks identify the importance of septic tanks [textbook link].

ACCWA accepts the compromise that identified the western boundary of the aquifer protection zone as the point at which 75 feet of undisturbed Satanka Shale is present. But mapping of that criterion must be based on the best available science, not the policy preferences of regulators. The county mapping is known to be in error and should be corrected. [link]

ACCWA strongly opposes the censorship of valid scientific data that is presently included in county regulations. [link}

The 2013 East Laramie Waste Water Feasibility Study evaluated 115 private wells and found that “approximately 65% of the East Grand area wells that were sampled show nitrate contamination, with 4% of the wells exceeding the EPA Drinking Water Standard for nitrates which is 10 mg/l.” [WWC Sewer Study]

  • 5th Street PCE Plume. The DEQ is investigating the recently-identified PCE plume along 5th Street. PCE plume