Drivers heading over Loveland Pass say the area where a tanker truck carrying 8,000 gallons of fuel overturned Saturday night appears dry, but the smell of gasoline is pungent.
The truck, which rolled onto its right side as it took a hairpin turn above Arapahoe Basin Ski Area, dumped what is now estimated to be about 6,000 gallons of unleaded and some diesel fuel onto Highway 6, sending a cascade of gasoline down the shoulders of the high-alpine road that in some places was up to 4 inches deep. The cleanup operation on such a mess could take weeks, authorities say.
“They have to dig out all of the dirt from the side of the mountain and take all of the contaminated dirt to a facility to get rid of it,” Colorado State Patrol spokesman Nate Reid said. “Obviously, this is a long process.”
Despite the long repair effort ahead, the situation was not as bad as it could have been. The gasoline did not start a fire, it did not cause lasting damage to the asphalt on Hwy. 6 and, so far, the fuel does not seem to have reached the nearby Snake River.
“They’re keeping an eye on it downstream,” Reid said.
Both the Coast Guard and Denver Water have been warned of the possible contamination of the river water and are taking action to ensure no contaminants enters a drinking water supply.
Denver Water officials say they’ve detected no sign of gasoline in the streams that feed into Dillon Reservoir, but will continue to monitor and take samples for another two weeks.
“At this point everything we’re doing is precautionary,” Denver Water spokesman Travis Thompson said. “But dilution at that amount that would get in there, it would be in the parts per trillion. It wouldn’t be that much of a concern. We still do everything we can to make sure nothing enters the water source.”
The spill is not the first on Loveland Pass, the winding and sometimes alternative route into Summit County used by commercial vehicles hauling hazardous materials to avoid the more congested Interstate 70. But this most recent crash has local officials debating how to respond.
“I’m just devastated any time I hear about those kinds of accidents on Loveland Pass,” state Rep. Millie Hamner said. “It’s impossible to ignore the accumulated damage that repeated hazardous materials spills are causing in that high alpine environment.”
Representatives of the trucking industry agree, but say a solution isn’t readily available.
Truckers, particularly those carrying hazardous materials like gasoline, are highly trained and have far lower accident rates than the traveling public, said Greg Fulton, president of the Colorado Motor Carriers Association. But even extensive experience and a solid track record don’t eliminate the risk of accidents on a high-mountain road that frequently sees extreme weather conditions.
“Loveland Pass is probably one of the most challenging areas for driving a truck,” Fulton said. “It’s very unforgiving. In terms of what you can do investment-wise, you can’t change the topography and you can’t change the weather conditions.”
The tanker crashed Saturday just after 8 p.m. The driver, who is from Colorado, suffered minor injuries and was cited for careless driving.
Local fire departments, Colorado State Patrol, hazardous materials teams and the Summit County Ambulance Service responded to the scene. First responders were able to stop approximately 2,000 gallons of gasoline from leaking out of the truck and started cleanup efforts before turning management of the spill over to a private company.