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Decades old fuel leak enters final stage of cleanup

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ALTUS, Okla._The damage from an underground gasoline leak that was first discovered 21 years ago in Altus is almost finally cleaned up.

The leak was noticed when a gas station's underground storage tank was removed. The leak had contaminated the soil in several locations on and near the corner of east Broadway and Chalmers street. That led to the demolition of several properties in the area, including one within the last few weeks. The final phase of the project involved removing 2,700 cubic feet of dirt from were two duplexes were located just two weeks ago.

Tanya Wingate has lived in her house for seventeen years. She first found out about the leak about fifteen years ago.

"I was a little afraid because I have grandchildren that play in the backyard and I didn't know if that would affect them or not when they were digging in the dirt or just outside," said Wingate.

Her mind was eased when officials told her the leak was six feet under the ground.

Don Sontheimer from Cross Timbers Environmental Management says the soil was only affected with low levels of gasoline.

"The state has deemed unacceptable and a risk to the area. So we're removing it and that's one of the easiest ways we do remediation, just dig it up and get it out of here," said Sontheimer.

Phase one was at the gas station, phase two involved tearing down a nightclub and removing the dirt.

"It was a really big area and they probably dug it up about eighteen feet down and the smell was horrible from that," said Sontheimer.

The final phase is removing the soil from the site where the duplexes were torn down and replacing it with all new uncontaminated dirt. All the polluted dirt is being taken to the Altus landfill where Sontheimer says after being exposed to the sunlight and air, it was naturally decontaminate it.

Wingate says she's glad this not-so-glamorous backyard project is finally coming to an end.

"It will be nice when all the equipment is gone and the hole is refilled in," said Wingate.

A penny from every gallon of gas at the pump goes into a fund that helps pay for clean up projects like the one in Altus. The final phase of the project should be completed in a month.

The new dirt will be covered with sod and neighbors' yards will be fixed.

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