LARAMIE -- Albany County Clean Water Advocates will present information on the proposed re-opening of the former Tumbleweed Express gas station at a community meeting at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, July 24, in the Albany County Public Library meeting room.

Martin Greller, president of the clean water advocates, said the former gas station is located over the Casper Aquifer, which provides at least half of the Laramie community’s drinking water.

Topics to be covered include the basic geology of the Casper Aquifer Protection Area, the importance of preventing contamination of our drinking water aquifer, and the zoning regulations the county could use to stop the gas station from re-opening.

“There are 2 things we hope to accomplish at the meeting. The first is, before the redevelopment of Tumbleweed was on the table, we had started to produce a video to help educate people on just what an aquifer is. It’s a brief 7-minute video, which is how we will start the evening,” Greller said.

“We’ve also learned a lot as we’ve tried to respond to the efforts to develop the Tumbleweed, in terms of some of the disconnects that appear to be in place between the zoning for protection of that very fragile area – the 2 percent of the county’s landmass that is over the aquifer that is highly permeable, and unfortunately, is directly underneath the proposed gas station,” said Greller.

“Gas stations now are prohibited within the aquifer protection area, and for good reason,” said Sarah Gorin, ACCWA vice-president. “Re-opening this gas station means that 33,000 gallons of fuel will be constantly sitting right on top of our drinking water aquifer.”

ACCWA believes that the Albany County Zoning Resolution now in place gives the county the authority to address the threat presented by re-starting operations at the former gas station.

“The county attorney withdrew a court case seeking injunctive relief. That does not mean the zoning laws, as they exist, have gone away. And, in fact, we have been circulating a petition which requests that the county commissioners go forward with efforts to enforce the zoning regulation, particularly those associated with the recharge area, that fragile area over the aquifer, that small area.”

Greller said educating the consumer about the ramifications of a gas station allowed to operate over the Casper Aquifer is an important part of their purpose.

“If there is enough public discontent about the potential consequences of this choice, people may well choose to buy their gas someplace else. Heaven knows there are lots of other places where you can fill ’er up, some on the same road.”

But Jason Tangeman of the law firm Nicholas & Tangeman, LLC in Laramie, representing the owners of the proposed gas station, told in a phone interview July 3 that the 90-day moratorium formalized by Albany County Commissioners on June 11 had no bearing on the progress of the work, “because we were grandfathered in.”

“With all respect to Mr. Tangeman, just what is it that’s grandfathered? In terms of the sale of gasoline, it would appear to be a very small, low-level operation. In terms of diesel, there is no evidence of any sale since 2016. That exceeds the period of 24-months now. So given the county standard of 24 continuous months out of operation, I would assume they are not grandfathered to sell diesel, because they haven’t done it.”

“In past laws, zoning laws, that said ‘these are things that shouldn’t happen on the aquifer – they’re dangerous, they’re risky, and if you do them long enough, something bad is going to happen.’ One of those things is to have a gas station.”

On April 23, Albany County Attorney Peggy Trent filed a request for a court order to block construction work by Tumbleweed Express that Trent initially alleged was a threat to the Casper Aquifer. The gas station has only been open intermittently during the last decade.

But on June 11 at a special county meeting, Trent dropped the request for an injunction after concluding that Albany County’s regulations didn’t provide enough legal backing to stop the gas station’s renovations and sale of gas.

At the June 11 meeting, commissioners formalized a 90-day moratorium on development in the aquifer protection zone. Trent said that the possibility of future expansion plans by Tumbleweed Express was part of the reason for the moratorium.

“At Wednesday’s meeting, what we hope to accomplish is to have a conversation. We’d like to share what we’ve learned, what we’ve seen, and to invite people to think about what their options are. Besides the video, we have a former member of the Albany County Planning and Zoning Commission who will speak,” said Greller.

“Will it finish the conversation? I doubt that. Certainly, we hope that people with differing viewpoints will arrive. People will probably leave with different conclusions. But that’s fine. Part of our goal as an organization is education. That doesn’t mean people end up having to agree with us.”

If you’d like to sign the Clean Water Advocate’s petition to the county board, attend the meeting, or you can visit the ACCWA website or visit their Facebook page.

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