Workers will remove contaminated soil near picturesque Zephyr Cove

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A multi-year effort to undo damage from a leaky commercial fuel tank near Lake Tahoe is moving into a new stage.

Workers are set to start excavating contaminated soil from an area at Zephyr Cove Resort, site of a fuel leak discovered in 2011.

The excavation project will occur in an area visible from Highway 50 near the resort and could be completed by October 15.

The plan is to remove contaminated soil from an area about 60 feet long, 90 feet wide and 25 feet deep.

So what happened in 2011?

It’s part of a cleanup project that began after the discovery five years ago that unleaded fuel had been leaking from a tank used to serve customers at the resort’s marina.

The leaked fuel didn’t make it to Lake Tahoe, according to the U.S. Forest Service which owns the property and leases it to resort operator Aramark.

But it did manage to form an underground plume that threatened groundwater and contaminated large amounts of soil.

Workers have installed infrastructure to remove contamination in addition to monitoring wells to track progress of the work and keep track of the fuel as it moves through the soil.

What does the next stage involve?

Officials decided to move into the excavation stage because the other methods have managed to reduce the concentration levels of contaminants and fall is typically the best time of year for digging.

That’s because it’s when the water table is at its lowest and the weather is least likely to deliver thunderstorms or extensive amounts of precipitation that could disrupt the job.

“Now is the time to excavate the material and remove it from the site,” said Jonathan Cook-Fisher, special uses program manager for the Forest Service in the Tahoe Basin.

The project involves removing 15 trees, which will be replaced, and about 2,500 tons of soil. The resort will remain open throughout the work.

The special use permit that covers Aramark’s operation of the site requires the company to pay for the project, Cook-Fisher said.

The contamination dates back to at least 2011 when workers discovered fuel leaking from an area near where a gasoline pump met the top of the underground tank.

Although Aramark had proper precautions and monitoring in place for the tank the leak evaded detection, Cook-Fisher said, until people working on the pump noticed it in the soil.

Cook-Fisher said the fact the leak occurred despite operators’ efforts to properly maintain the tank shows the danger of underground fuel tanks in general and the reason they’re being phased out in environmentally sensitive areas.

“Underground storage tanks are awful to monitor,” he said.

Resort operators at Zephyr Cove now use above-ground tanks and the old tank was removed, Cook-Fisher said.

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