MINATARE — A project to reopen the long-since closed Harry’s Truck Stop in Minatare is still moving forward despite a number of delays.
In October 2018, Brody and Corrine Skinner approached the city council about annexing the property northeast of Minatare into the city, which was later approved.
There were three businesses on the property: a gas station and convenience store, a restaurant and a motel. The Skinners are planning to eventually get all of them operating again, starting with the gas station. That business was expected to be in operation by the end of 2019.
“The whole project is still going forward, but it’s been delayed,” Brody Skinner said. “The fuel cleanup on the ground was expected to be done in March but the weather changed that.”
On March 15, a late winter blizzard called a “bomb cyclone” buried the local area in snow. The same system dumped a flood of water on eastern Nebraska, which kept Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality (NDEQ) crews there to deal with emergencies.
“NDEQ was going to do the inspection and fuel cleanup on the site for any environmental concerns,” Skinner said. “That was pushed back from March to May. When they started digging, we found the soil contamination was much worse than we expected.”
The Skinners were shown a map of well testing results for benzene, gas and diesel fuel at the property. The preliminary cleanup area was about 20,000 square feet, but ended up growing to 30,308 square feet.
Geologist Phil Hargis with NDEQ’s Petroleum Remediation Section is the project manager for the Harry’s Truck Stop project.
“This is one of the most contaminated sites I’ve ever had to work with and I’ve been here 28 years,” Hargis said. “The site has a long and storied history of gas and diesel releases and our agency has had a lot of difficulty dealing with it.”
NDEQ is still working on removing the contaminated soil and backfilling it with sand and clean dirt. Then the soil has to be compacted before the parking lot can be replaced.
“Fortunately, the local airport wanted all the soil we dug out,” Hargis said. “They have a lot of backfill work to do for future buildings and hangars. We take the contaminated soil there and clean it on the surface, which is much easier than trying to clean it in the ground.”
He said it’s a good relationship between the Skinners, the state, the City of Scottsbluff and the airport to take care of the contamination problem to everyone’s advantage. Plus, it saves a lot of taxpayer dollars.
Once NDEQ’s cleanup is completed, Skinner said other environmental issues need to be addressed, such as water testing. That must be done before connections can be made with city water and sewer.
“Until those things are done, no real business can be operated out here,” Skinner said. “This has slowed us down a lot more than we anticipated. The cold weather didn’t help because it affected the availability of contractors to install the water lines.”
The water table around Minatare is high and that makes for a challenge to develop a timeline for utility line installation when contractors are available to do the work.
“The groundwater at the site is about 3 feet deep,” Hargis said. “That naturally creates a lot of problems because when you dig a ditch, it fills up with water. I think the solution will be directional boring to bring in utility lines. We have to go under the highway anyway.”
Hargis said there’s a sense of satisfaction with the Minatare project. Several different agencies are working together to clean up a chronic problem site while providing a nearby gas station and convenience store for the town’s residents.
“Right now, we’re patiently letting things happen,” Skinner said. “We won’t be open this year, but we’re working toward that goal.”