Confehr: Polluted well water killed fine merchant

Friday, July 8, 2011

Recall with us now, those thrilling days of yesteryear and consider what happened before the nanny state started looking out for us.

It was high atop Keith Springs Mountain not far from Robin Hood's cave, the site of a moonshiner's still just north of the Alabama line.

For lack of an Internet news morgue from the 1980s, we'll call the merchant George. The man had a store that served the rural community with fuel, hunting licenses, dry goods, and assorted groceries. The deputy patrolling the plateau said George made the best hamburgers and sweet tea in that part of the county.

George was barely hanging on financially. His health wasn't so good, either.

As most merchants do, George took inventory and he realized he had problems with his gasoline sales.

When he could afford to top off his fuel tanks, he'd realize lower profit margins compared to when he'd sell about all he had. That was in contrast to when he'd buy fewer gallons instead of refilling the tanks.

Pretty soon, he concluded there was a leak. That sent him, his neighbors and a government agency to thinking about what should be done.

Nearby residents relied on well water, as did George. There was no water utility on the mountain.

Concern spread. George had his water tested. So did some of the neighbors.

State environmentalists drilled test wells to see what could be found underground. The wells' water contained components of gasoline.

A healthy sense of self-preservation grew and folks began to protect themselves. They also looked around to see who was at fault.

One of the gasoline tanks was dug up at George's store. A hole was found. It was about the size of the tip of a ballpoint pen.

Many underground fuel tanks are leased from a fuel distributor. Litigation ensued between George and his supplier. The business in a not-so-far-away town hired a lawyer, but everybody realized there are some things that just can't be fixed with money.

There was a settlement between George, the supplier and his associates. George declined to say how much money changed hands. Silence on that was part of his settlement agreement.

More than two decades have passed since then. George was diagnosed with cancer. No obituary was found for this essay. There had to have been one for the man whose handmade hamburgers started as huge meatballs and were served as healthy-sized burgers, bigger than the bun.

In his later days at the store, George sold bottled drinks, washed his grill and utensils with purified water. His well water was used for indoor plumbing fixtures made of porcelain.

Late last month, a notice was published here about a fuel tank that had been leaking at the state garage on Fayetteville Highway. A state environmental officer has concluded that because of the area's geography, there's no threat to human health.

The leaky tank's been replaced. Steps are being taken to remediate the polluted ground.

These views are the author's and not necessarily reflective of the Tribune's views.ウ