Samples taken around the Cleburne County equipment building have led administrators to believe a petroleum leak originated at county-owned underground fuel lines but did not spread to underground water sources.

County Engineer Shannon Robbins said the path of the leak is narrow and small. It starts near the supply lines of the two county fuel tanks and follows the downhill terrain toward Alabama 46. The tanks are above ground; the supply lines, which once carried fuel to a dispensing pump for vehicles, are underground (the county shut the system down after the leak was discovered). The path ends in a now-fenced-off area where the leaked fuel is being cleaned up.  

“It’s not widespread,” Robbins said of the leak, noting that it developed above the level of the water table.

That’s good news for the county, which has been footing the bill for the cleanup. It means the cost for the testing, reporting and construction of a remediation system will probably not rise above the originally quoted $280,000, Robbins said.

The leak was reported to the county this spring by a resident who saw a film on the water of a creek that runs by the county equipment building and onto his property.

The county contacted the Alabama Department of Environmental Management immediately, Robbins said.

“We’ve been doing everything and anything that ADEM asks,” Robbins said.

The next step will be the line closure, he said. The county will have a contractor remove the underground fuel supply lines sometime in the next two weeks, he said. At the same time, PPM, an environmental company the county hired to help with the cleanup, will create an official report of the sampling for ADEM. It’s possible both things will be submitted to the department at the same time, Robbins said. But he said the company still has some samples to collect at the northeast corner of the county property.

Robbins expects the county will have to construct six to eight monitoring wells. Quarterly monitoring tests of the wells could cost between $100,000 to $150,000 each year, he said.

A request by the county to use money from the Alabama Underground and Aboveground Storage Tank Trust Fund to pay for the cleanup was initially denied by ADEM, which disburses the money. The state charges a fee on each gallon of fuel purchased, which is put in the trust fund and used for cleanups such as this, Swafford said. The county is hoping to appeal the decision. The Cleburne County commissioners have also contacted local legislators Sen. Gerald Dial and Rep. Richard Lindsey for their help, Swafford said.

“Once we have the final reports I think we’ll be in the best position for an appeal,” Swafford said.

In addition to the cleanup, the leak is a fineable infraction, said Jerome Hand, public relations director for ADEM.  

The department takes a lot of things into consideration when deciding to fine, including the severity of the issue, the level of cooperation in the cleanup, whether the problem was ignored when discovered, and any precautions taken, Hand said.  

“At this time the cleanup and assessment at the site is continuing,” Hand said. “Some corrective action has taken place and the county has been responsive to the department’s requirements.”

Staff Writer Laura Camper: 256-235-3545 or, in Heflin, 256-463-2872. On Twitter @LCamper_Star.