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Nose for news not needed on this one

Jamie Bate

It doesn’t take more than sucking in a deep breath about halfway up Old Highway 40 on Donner Summit to realize something is amiss.

The odor of some sort of fuel product is, depending on the day, faint to sharp in the mountain air.

So what’s up up on the summit? That’s what we’ve been trying to track down for the last several days. As we reported in the Sierra Sun a few weeks ago, an 8-inch pipeline that crosses over Donner Summit failed sometime around April 1 and leaked an undetermined amount of jet and diesel fuel into the surrounding snow.

According to an impressively entitled April 5 “Unified Command Joint News Release” from the powers that be ” Kinder Morgan, the pipeline owner, California Department of Fish and Game, U.S. Forest Service ” everything got fixed and was A-OK by the end of the first Tuesday of this month.

“Investigators found evidence of a petroleum sheen in the area, but no actual accumulation of gasoline,” that release said. “There was no fire or injuries and [the Office of Spill Prevention and Response] representatives have reported no instances of damage to wildlife.”

Now, about three weeks later, the smell of fuel persists, Kinder Morgan contractors and employees are still on the scene, nobody knows how much fuel spilled and other than the missive from the “Unified Command,” that’s pretty much all we’ve heard from anyone “in the know.”

So we continue to make calls, trek up the summit and pester and prod to get some answers. Some folks are helpful; others not so.

But our noses, common sense and a few folks close to the situation tell us that it’s just a matter of time before questions ” like the spring thaw ” begin to flow in earnest.

We have readers stopping by or calling, telling us about men in “masks” on the summit. Others are worried about the spill containment booms floating on the creek that runs into Donner Lake. And then there are the folks who just smell something besides fresh mountain air ” and it’s not the odor of gas.

With Truckee’s gem ” Donner Lake ” sitting at the bottom of a snowladen watershed, now apparently soaked with an unknown amount of petroleum product, we are alarmed by the lack of information coming from the “Unified Command.”

Unfortunately, the owner of the pipeline and its affiliates were fined just this month by state and federal authorities for a previous line break in the Suisun Marsh and for not practicing emergency response procedures in Sparks, Nev.

With all that’s going on, one doesn’t need to be a journalist to have the literal “nose for the news.” All it takes is a deep breath up on the summit.

Reach Jamie Bate, editor of the

Sierra Sun, at jbate@sierrasun.com.


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