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Drilling for answers on Main Street

Aaron Ocheltree, a driller with Cascade Drillers, marks a soil sample taken across the street from an old Freeland gas station where thousands of gallons of diesel spilled in 2005. - Justin Burnett / The Record
Aaron Ocheltree, a driller with Cascade Drillers, marks a soil sample taken across the street from an old Freeland gas station where thousands of gallons of diesel spilled in 2005.
— image credit: Justin Burnett / The Record

After months of waiting, Freeland residents and water officials may soon have some answers about an old fuel spill and its possible impact on nearby wells.

On Monday, a drilling team began work on four groundwater monitoring test wells on properties along Harbor Avenue and Main Street. The semi-permanent installations will function as windows to Freeland’s aquifer and should help show just how far the 8-year-old spill has traveled underground toward Freeland Water District’s wells.


The work was originally planned to start months ago but was delayed due to difficulty securing access agreements with private property owners. After months of uncertainty, the commencement of drilling Monday was a big relief for water district officials, as there is a lot riding on what’s learned from the monitoring stations.

“If the fuel makes it in (the district’s wells), there’s no way to get it out, which means we’ll have to dig new wells,” said Andy Campbell, the district’s manager.

In 2005, the owner of Whidbey Marine and Auto Supply on Main Street — now closed — reported a release of thousands of gallons of fuel from one of the store’s fuel tanks. The exact amount is unknown but it could be as high as 7,000 gallons, state officials have said.

The former owner has since participated in a voluntary state cleanup program and recovered about 2,000 gallons. Drillers peppered the surrounding area with test wells and determined that the fuel had penetrated the aquifer — about 100 feet down — and was moving toward the water district’s main wells on Scenic Avenue.


They provide water to about 90 commercial business and about 400 residences.

Ken Scott, a project scientist with Farallon Consulting, the firm hired to do the work on behalf of the former gas station owner, was inspecting samples as they came up Monday with a hand-held detection device, and with sight and smell tests. By the 70-foot mark, no traces of diesel were found in the 105-foot well.

Contaminants were not expected, however, above 80 feet. Looking at samples as they dig is important but the wells are really meant to show what’s happening at depth, according to Scott.

“Groundwater is the big picture,” he said.

Also, even if something is found on the way down it won’t be conclusive. Results can only be confirmed by specialized testing off-site.

“You really don’t know until you get the lab analysis back,” Scott said.

Scott said drilling would take about four days — one day for each well.

It’s not yet clear when lab results will be made public.

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