PAYNESVILLE -- For nearly 30 years Paynesville residents have been dealing with a gas leak affecting the city's drinking water, and now finally have a solution.

A gasoline leak at the site of the former Midtown Service Station has had city officials looking for answers on how to handle an underground plume that tainted the city's drinking water.

Public Works Director Ron Mergen says the leak was discovered in the mid-1980s and forced them the close two city wells.

"It started in the mid-1980s when a leak was discovered and in the late 1990s it did show up in two of our wells, which both were abandoned and replaced by the Pollution Control Agency (PCA)," says Mergen.

The plume covers roughly 15 acres and mayor Jeff Thompson says when the got the new wells the Pollution Control Agency told them the plume wouldn't cause further harm.

"PCA has always said 'well there is no intimate danger, it's still far enough away, we are monitoring it," says Thompson.

At least that's what they were told before they found one of the PCA's monitoring wells contaminated with benzine.

"One of the monitoring wells about 1,000 yards away from the two wells tested positive for benzine or BOC contamination," says Mergen.

Which was the last straw for city officials, who got local lawmakers involved and asked for some financial help.

"There was a meeting that representatives from the city went to and finally convinced lawmakers this was money well spent," says Thompson.

The city was awarded $2.5-million-dollars which they will used for a water treatment system to clean the contamination.

However, even with the funding the city isn't out of the water. The plume will take a while to disappear and could threaten private wells.

"The threat is still there and we feel it's just a matter of time the contamination is going to get into this drinking water supply," says Mergen.

Over $3-million-dollars has been spent by the PCA already for monitoring and replacements of wells. Thompson says the city will begin collecting bids on how to finally treat the problem and clean up the area as fast as possible.

"It could hit within a few days or it could be a few months or a couple years, but we want to be ready,"  says Thompson.

Thompson says while the journey has been long, it's good to see an end in sight.


Several monitoring wells continue watch an underground plume affecting drinking water. (Photo: Alex Svejkovsky, WJON)