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

The former gas station is located over the Casper Aquifer, which provides at least half of the Laramie community’s drinking water.

“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.”

Gorin said the ACCWA works to protect the integrity of Laramie-area drinking water.

“We’re very concerned about protecting the Casper Aquifer. That’s where about half of the City of Laramie and the surrounding area get its water supply. The other half comes from the Laramie River,” she said.

Gorin said the informational meeting was attended by area citizens concerned with the actions of the Albany County Commissioners.

“This was our presentation. The ‘other’ folks have their forum at the county commission. We had a series of speakers talking about the basic geology of the Casper Aquifer, actual and potential contaminate sources, and what other communities are doing to protect their drinking water aquifers.”

Gorin said she presented information about the zoning issues that have arisen around the proposed re-opening of the former Tumbleweed Gas Station on East Grand Ave. that sits directly above the aquifer.

“This is fundamentally a zoning problem,” Gorin said. “People were interested in what the next step will be, which is an interesting question.

“What’s happened here is that the county did take action to enforce the zoning resolution against Tumbleweed. What Tumbleweed has asserted is that they are ‘grandfathered,’ because there was a gas station there prior to the zoning restrictions established by the county.

“It’s a little more complicated than that. They never filed any procedural paperwork, they didn’t work with the Albany County Planning Office, none of these things until they were contacted by the county when people saw activity out there. People have the assumption that they worked through an application process – that’s not the case. They went ahead and did what they wanted to do.

“The county did initiate an enforcement action. However, the county withdrew it. Now, absent something else happening, there will be a gas station with 33,000 gallons of fuel sitting on top of the drinking water aquifer.

“Now we are encouraging people to express their opinions to the county commissioners to reinstate that action.”

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.

Gorin said the moratorium established by the county was “just words.”

“The moratorium was done after the enforcement action was withdrawn. The moratorium specifically does not stop anything. It’s a moratorium in name only.

“[The county commission] is simultaneously on some revisions to the aquifer protection regulations – again, the action that will not stop Tumbleweed. But they were intended, as we were given to understand, to strengthen the regulations. However, we have not seen any progress on that point,” Gorin said.

“This is our drinking water. For the City of Laramie, associated water systems like the South Laramie Water and Sewer District, and people on wells east of town.

“The other half comes from the Laramie River, where there have been two truck accidents where substances of unknown composition were dumped into the Laramie River drainage. There is potential contamination from both ends. The aquifer is currently the ‘4-alarm fire’ with the gas station there, considered a high-priority threat,” she said.

“Drinking water is something that we cannot take for granted, it’s something we have to be alerted to if we are going to protect what we have now, which is a relatively pristine drinking water source. We’re upstream from the herd, as it were!

“We’re not drinking water that’s gone through umpteen water treatment plants; we’re drinking water that has basically come right out of the sky. And it would be nice to keep it that way.”

Gorin said one county commissioner is in favor of taking enforcement action; two are not. She hopes citizens will contact them and the county attorney in order to get some action on this issue.

“We encourage people to be active; write postcards to the county commissioners; sign the petition asking the commission to reinstate action to stop the gas station.”

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.

An extensive library of documents pertaining to the protection of the Casper Aquifer can be found on ACCWA’s website at albanycountycleanwateradvocates.org. For more information, email albanyctycleanwateradvocates@gmail.com.