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Residents concerned about test site

Sat., Dec. 22, 2007

A company owned by the Coeur d’Alene Tribe is building a facility near the reservation town of Tensed to test 210,000-gallon jet fuel bladders for leaks.

Berg Integrated Systems is testing the giant bladders as part of an estimated $400 million contract with the U.S. Army, tribe attorney Eric Van Orden said Friday.

The tests involve filling possibly only one bladder Berg produced for the Army with 210,000 gallons of jet fuel and letting it sit for two weeks to see if the bladder leaks, Van Orden said. Additional bladders may be tested using only air and water.

Filled, the bladders are 70 feet by 70 feet and 6 feet deep – holding enough fuel to fill nearly 6,000 bath tubs.

The site is located over the aquifer that provides drinking water for the small towns of Tensed and Desmet. That has sparked concerns among some residents.

Van Orden and others, including the Environmental Protection Agency, said precautions are being taken to ensure the water supply won’t be polluted.

“The tribe has been a steward of the environment and really been out in front on trying to clean up the lake and the water around here,” Van Orden said. “The last thing the tribe would want to do is contaminate the water supply.”

Jean Weaver, owner of the Tensed Service Station, said concerns about the testing come from a small, but vocal group of residents. Efforts to reach a member of that group were unsuccessful Friday.

Weaver said she’s not concerned about the bladder testing.

“(The Tribe’s) not going to put something in the ground that’s going to interfere with our water,” she said.

A fuel leak in 2005 at another Tensed business – City Service Valcon – is still fresh in people’s minds, said Tensed Fire Chief Shane Sanford, who is also the town’s former mayor.

After he was approached by concerned citizens, Sanford said he spoke with the tribe and Berg Integrated Systems.

“They really are being super, super cautious,” Sanford said. “They’re almost overbuilding.”

A plan’s in place to address the “what ifs” should an accident occur, Sanford said.

The testing site measures about 100 feet by 300 feet on a parcel that’s just under an acre. It will be surrounded by an earthen berm and double-lined to prevent possible spills from seeping into the ground, Van Orden said.

He said the tribe is working with the EPA and its own water quality experts. The tribe and Tensed Mayor Faith Harvey may hold a town hall meeting to address questions. A date has not been set.

Earl Liverman of the EPA said the tribe is “well-prepared to respond” if any of the fuel leaks.

“The tribe is earnest and genuinely concerned about ensuring the testing is conducted in a manner that takes into consideration any and all contingencies,” Liverman said.

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