Environmental problems draw close to home

Tuesday, December 2, 2003

When we read about environmental disasters, it's most often at some distant place, such as an oil spill in the ocean. But -- as McCook is learning -- environmental problems can happen close to home, too.

This fact was brought crashing home last November when it was learned that a diesel plume had crept to the edge of McCook's four million gallon water reservoir, located to the south and west of the Burlington Northern/Santa Fe railroad property. This news was devastating. A crack in the reservoir or the booster pumps could shut down McCook's entire water system.

Because of the threat, the state ruled out funding at the reservoir lcoation for a water treatment plant, which just days before the McCook City Council had approved as the best answer for solving McCook's continuing water quantity and quality problems.

That was why -- with the encouragement of Jack Daniel of the Nebraska Department of Health -- the council voted to go north in its quest for a safe and sufficient future water supply for the city. That effort continued Monday night when the City Council approved the use of sales tax funds to acquire conservation easements at the proposed municipal well sites.

While, for safety reasons, the council is looking north for the water solution, the diesel plume problem persists. It is a frightening scenario because, as the plume moves to the south, it not only threatens the water reservoir, but the Humane Society and the homes across South Street, as well.

In other locations where this has happened, the diesel has bubbled to the surface. And, even when it hasn't, the diesel fuel has ridden on top of the ground water, serving as a conduit for other contaminants, such as pesticides, fertilizer and gasoline.

With issues of such magnitude and complexity, the courts are the last resort. With this in mind, the City Council Monday night voted to employ a Mandan, N.D., law firm, Kelsch Kelsch Ruff & Kranda, to represent the city against the railroad in the impending legal dispute. The special legal counsel will be William J. Delmore, who is involved in a similar dispute with the railroad in Mandan.

This is an extremely serious matter and should be pursued by the city and their attorneys with utmost urgency. The water treatment solution has been undermined; and adjacent property has been placed in possible peril.

The cost of the contamination could reach into the millions of dollars. The City of McCook, and affected property owners should be fairly compensated for the expenses that they incur.

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