HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. (QUEEN CITY NEWS) — The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality held a public hearing Thursday for neighbors regarding Colonial Pipeline’s latest plan to escalate the ongoing cleanup of a nearly three-year-old gasoline spill. 

It comes after the state issued the company a consent order that fined them $4.7 million and compelled them to clean up roughly two million gallons of gasoline that seeped into the groundwater at the Oehler Nature Preserve in eastern Huntersville during a leak discovered in August 2020.  

Colonial’s plan involves building a water treatment system near the spill site. It would remove the contaminated groundwater, treat it, then release it into the Yadkin-Pee Dee River Basin.  

The company’s other option would be to bring in 115 trucks each day to haul out contaminated water for offsite treatment.  

“We realize that the majority of the public comments have been opposed to this permit being issued,” said Yadkin Riverkeeper Edgar Miller at Thursday’s meeting at the town’s Central Piedmont Community College campus. “We’re just taking a slightly different position, saying that this is the best option we have now to clean this up.” 

Neighbors opposed to the permitting say DEQ’s standards for treated water release aren’t strict enough. For instance, speakers urged for tighter limits on how much benzene can be released into surface water and controls on how often Colonial’s equipment is maintained.  

“Colonial is saying that they’re going to put some controls in place, but right now, the permit doesn’t require them,” said Patrick Hunter, attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center.  

Though representatives from Colonial refused an interview, they spoke at DEQ’s public hearing and said their plans meet or exceed all state standards. 

N.C. Rep. Natasha Marcus, whose District 41 covers northern and western Mecklenburg County, has been vocal throughout the cleanup process. 

“If we’re going to now have a structure there in the middle of their neighborhood, they have a right to know what it looks like, how loud it is,” Marcus said Thursday. “How long is it going to be there?” 

DEQ now has 90 days to determine whether to permit Colonial’s treatment plant application.  

“There are a lot of comments, good comments, that we will review and take a closer look before we issue this permit,” said Julie Grzyb, deputy director of the Division of Water Resources.