Gasoline leak on Viking Avenue is still a hazard

POULSBO — The Poulsbo Junction Grocery gasoline leak discovered near Viking Way more than four weeks ago has resulted in the closure of a nearby business and continues to evade the Department of Ecology.

After one of the station’s underground gasoline tanks was found seeping fuel into surrounding dirt, both the tank and the contaminated earth were removed July 13. But a plume of gasoline that spread through porous soil to the east side of Viking Way has continued to exude fumes and threaten Liberty Bay, causing Armstrong Fitness University to not only close, but look for a new place of permanent residence.

“We’ve been experiencing really strong gas fumes for six weeks,” said AFU owner Ann Armstrong. “With things like gasoline, you don’t know the long-term impacts until it’s too late. It’s a pretty scary situation, but I want to err on the side of caution.”

Several of Armstrong’s employees reported symptoms known to result from overexposure to gasoline fumes, including headaches, nausea, asthma flair-ups and vomiting, she said. One employee recently suffered a seizure.

The DOE assured Armstrong the fumes were not potent enough to cause an explosion, though state officials also determined the majority of the leak likely spread in the direction of the fitness building. Based on the DOE’s recommendations, Armstrong said she decided closure was the best option.

“It’s impacting the health of the people here on a daily basis,” she said of the July 20 closure. “I’m doing it out of respect and concern for their health.”

DOE spokesman Larry Altose said crews are still working to determine the spread of the plume from the 12,000-gallon tank, so cleanup can get underway as soon as possible. The department’s next step is to drill holes into the surrounding area to determine the extent of the leak. A pattern of 20 to 30 holes is planned along the east and west sides of the road, as well as on the road itself. Each hole will be a couple inches in diameter, and will take about an hour to drill.

“We’re doing everything we can to address the fumes,” he said. “They’ll take samples to try to pinpoint where the gasoline is spreading. We need to gather this information from the ground and then we’ll be able to make appropriate decisions.”

Drilling on Viking Way was expected to begin Friday, and Altose said he wasn’t sure how far into next week the work will stretch. Lane closures will occur throughout the day, though at least one lane will remain open in each direction at all times.

“We want to express our appreciation for the cooperation of motorists,” he said. “We want everyone to be safe as we get this work done.”

The DOE is also in the process of installing a carbon filter at the discharge end of a storm drainage system on the east side of Viking Way where gasoline has been detected. The department will make efforts to treat the water and lessen the impacts to the environment as much as they can, Altose said.

The city will continue to offer its services to the DOE, most specifically helping to locate utility lines as drilling begins, said Public Works director Jeff Bauman.

“Somehow material is still getting into the water,” he said. “Based on what they find, they’ll better understand how far the material has migrated.”

As crews undergo the drilling process, Armstrong will look for a new place to locate her business and await testing for further information on the air quality of the current Armstrong Fitness University building.

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