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Flathead Lake fuel spill draws $83,500 penalty

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) -- A Montana trucking company will pay penalties of $83,500 to settle pollution violations stemming from a fuel tanker crash that spilled 6,300 gallons of gasoline near Flathead Lake, federal regulators said Tuesday.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said the penalty resolves its enforcement action against Keller Transport Inc. over the 2008 spill.

The rear section of a double fuel trailer flipped over as the truck rounded a curve along Montana Highway 35 near Polson. The spilled gasoline contaminated springs around Flathead Lake and led to the evacuation of five homes for a matter of months.

Since the spill, the size of a plume of underground contamination and the concentration of toxic pollutants have both decreased, said Darcy O'Connor with the EPA. But the agency says high levels of contamination persist in the main path of the spill, and a water treatment system will remain in place indefinitely.

"At this point we don't know when the treatment system can be shut down," O'Connor said.

One monitoring well near where the crash occurred had initial levels of cancer-causing benzene as high as 14,000 parts per billion, O'Connor said. The latest sample from that same site measured 178 parts per billion.

By comparison, water that comes out of the Keller-operated treatment system needs to be at a maximum of 5 parts per billion of benzene, she said.

Keller Transport attorney Charles Hansberry said the company will continue the cleanup work for as long as necessary.

"It's both a legal obligation and just the right thing to do from the company's perspective," he said, adding that the company is paying for the cleanup work out of pocket after its insurance ran out.