Local governments look toward I-80 monitoring wells

LARAMIE — With the approval of the Albany County Commission, the county’s planning staff plans to discuss, with the city of Laramie and the Wyoming Department of Transportation, options for installing monitoring wells underground along Interstate 80 in Telephone Canyon east of Laramie.

Potential spill of fuel and hazardous materials by I-80 traffic has long been a concern for potential contamination of the Casper Aquifer, which provides about half of the drinking water for the city of Laramie.

In January, a wreck involving two semi-trucks on I-80 spilled about 500 gallons of diesel fuel.

An emergency response team was able to contain the spill, and Wyoming Highway Patrol Sergeant Jeremy Beck said at the time “it wasn’t able to leak anywhere else.”

Installation of monitoring wells was the top recommendation from Trihydro Corporation, a Laramie engineering firm that, in 2011, completed a study on protection of the Casper Aquifer.

At the time, the cost of four monitoring wells was projected at $443,375.

In 2015, Trihydro completed engineering designs for the monitoring wells, but the project wasn’t brought to fruition by the governmental entities.

“The time was not right for all parties to move forward,” County Planner David Gertsch said in a memo to the commissioners.

But with some funding available from a 2010 sales tax, Gertsch approached the commissioners Tuesday for their support on restarting those conversations.

Gertsch said, starting this year, the county had about $210,000 remaining from that tax collection earmarked in 2010 by voters for protection of the Casper Aquifer.

About $75,000 of that sum was spent by the county earlier this year to help fund a geophysical study of the Telephone Canyon area in hopes of helping to mitigate chemical spills along the I-80 corridor.

“If a potential project appears agreeable and feasible for all parties, a tentative plan will be developed and brought to the Board of County Commissioners for your approval,” Gertsch said. “I anticipate that this will take some time and each entity will need to get funding for a potential project in order before we move forward.”

Gertsch told commissioners said he was recently approached by WYDOT officials about the possibility of moving forward with I-80 monitoring wells.

While none of the Albany County Commissioners said Gertsch shouldn’t move forward with those conversations, Commissioner Heber Richardson pondered whether the installation of wells could actually be harmful.

“There’s one thing that’s always bugged me about monitor wells,” he said. “It creates a drilled express path for contaminants to go into the aquifer. It depends on where it’s placed. … I guess it depends on how it’s completed.”

On Monday, certain members of the Albany County Planning and Zoning Commission expressed apprehension with increasing regulations for development atop the Casper Aquifer.

However, the commission earlier this year endorsed addressing the “potential threat posed by Interstate 80 Telephone Canyon to our drinking water.”

In the letter to the editor of the Laramie Boomerang, the planning commissioners recommended consideration of installation of hazardous spill basins, installations of rock lined channels with check dams, and installation of swirl concentrators with oil/water separators.