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Authorities now know where the gasoline odor at Whatcom Falls Park came from

John Stark, a former reporter for The Bellingham Herald, shot this image of a sheen on the water of a tributary to Whatcom Creek on the north side of the park about noon Monday.
John Stark, a former reporter for The Bellingham Herald, shot this image of a sheen on the water of a tributary to Whatcom Creek on the north side of the park about noon Monday. Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

Authorities on Tuesday pinpointed the source of the gasoline odor that caused concern among emergency officials and briefly shut a petroleum pipeline through Whatcom Falls Park.

“The source of the gasoline spill was traced to a catch basin at Daniels Court and Iowa Drive where it appears fuel was illegally dumped,” said Amy Cloud, spokeswoman for the Bellingham Public Works Department.

A 911 caller reported a strong odor of gasoline about 12:30 p.m. Monday on the north side of the park, which was the site of the deadly 1999 fuel pipeline explosion and fire. Bellingham Fire sent crews to investigate and were joined by pipeline and Public Works officials.

BP operates the line for Olympic Pipe Line Co. Pipeline monitoring instruments showed no apparent leak, said Bellingham Fire Assistant Chief Bill Hewett.

“The gas migrated through a small section of the city’s stormwater system and mostly dissipated,” Cloud said in an email. “Some was pulled up with absorbent materials while some, found to have dissipated in a small muddy area, was unrecoverable.”

No gas was detected in the Whatcom Creek and no environmental damage was evident, although the state Department of Ecology was notified, Cloud said.

Whatcom Falls Park is Bellingham’s most iconic green space, a 241-acre wooded site east of downtown, known for its picturesque cascades, a 1930s-era stone footbridge and 5.5 miles of hiking trails.

pipeline
Thick black smoke rises up from Whatcom Creek, which was ablaze after the Olympic Pipeline exploded killing three boys Bellingham, June 10, 1999, in Whatcom Falls Park. Staff The Bellingham Herald file

In 1999, three people died after nearly 300,000 gallons of gasoline leaked from an Olympic pipeline that runs under the park. The fuel ignited in a massive fireball that burned a large portion of the wetlands along Whatcom Creek.

In a 10th anniversary video prepared by the City of Bellingham, the late Joe Bates talks about the June 10, 1999 pipeline explosion in Whatcom Falls Park that killed two 10-year-olds and a teenager.

Robert Mittendorf: 360-756-2805, @BhamMitty

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