A diesel fuel spill from a Rockbridge County gas station left a mile-long sheen of oil on nearby Moores Creek, where dead wildlife was found on the banks, state regulators say.

The Pilot Travel Center, located off Interstate 81 at the Raphine exit, was cited for the spill by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality.

As part of an agreement, Pilot will pay a fine of $103,837.65.

The spill happened May 1, 2018, when a maintenance contractor replacing the pumps of Pilot’s underground storage tanks removed about 2,400 gallons of a mixture of water, algae and diesel fuel.

The contractor “improperly disposed of it all” into an oil-water separator that had a total capacity of 2,000 gallons and was not intended to be used to treat waste, according to a consent order.

From the separator and a second tank, the mixture flowed to a storm water pond and then into Moores Creek.

DEQ learned of the spill from local fire and rescue officials. Several days later, inspectors visited the site and “observed an oil sheen on Moores Creek, for approximately one mile south, into Willow Lake, as well as oil stained vegetation along and in the creek,” the order stated.

Someone later called DEQ to say there were dead animals in the area.

On May 9, inspectors returned to the scene and found a dead muskrat, a groundhog, an opossum and a snake on the banks of the creek.

A consultant later hired by Pilot detailed the travel center’s cleanup efforts, which included deploying absorbent booms, installing underflow dams and taking water samples. About 11 tons of petroleum-contaminated soil were removed from the area.

Pilot later told DEQ that it would surrender a permit that governed discharges from the oil-water separator, opting instead to pump the facility and have the waste hauled off site.

A follow-up inspection by DEQ confirmed that the discharge pipe had been capped.

The agency also found in December that “there were no remaining risks to sensitive receptors, human health, or the environment as a result of the oil discharge.”

The manager of the Pilot store could not be reached Tuesday. The consent order, which was signed last month by an attorney for the travel center, stipulates that the fine will be paid after DEQ takes written comments through Aug. 7.

DEQ official Tiffany Severs will accept comments by email to tiffany.severs@deq.virginia.gov, by fax to 540-574-7878, or by mail to the agency’s Valley Regional Office, 4411 Early Road, P.O. Box 3000, Harrisonburg, Virginia, 22801.

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Laurence Hammack covers environmental issues, including the Mountain Valley Pipeline, and business and enterprise stories. He has been a reporter for The Roanoke Times for more than three decades.

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