MYRTLE CREEK — Myrtle Creek business owners might seek damages after a diesel fuel spill contaminated the city’s drinking water and forced them to close last week.

Several businesses, mostly restaurants, closed on May 28 after the city told water customers not to use water for any purpose the day before.

The contamination occurred after a motorist drove off Springbrook Road into a ditch and spilled diesel fuel, said Katherine Benenati, spokeswoman for the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, in an email last week. The fuel ended up in Harrison Young Brook, which leads to the Springbrook Water Treatment Plant.

In a meeting at City Hall Monday afternoon, City Administrator Sean Negherbon provided business owners with insurance information of the person responsible for the spill. While the city has been in contact with the responsible person, Negherbon said the city will wait until DEQ concludes its investigation before releasing the person’s name.

“Calculate what you think you lost in profits or whatever costs you think you had as a result of this, and then you’ll turn that in to the insurance company,” Negherbon told business owners.

He said they can file for reimbursement with the U.S. Coast Guard National Pollution Funds Center if claims for damages don’t get resolved with the insurance company within 90 days.

“You need to do everything certified and keep really good records,” Negherbon said.

Affected businesses were already closed the day the spill occurred because it was Memorial Day. The city’s water advisory persisted until 7 p.m. the next day, however. The city switched to a secondary water source on the South Umpqua River, began flushing the distribution system and ran two series of tests, which concluded contamination was below harmful levels, before lifting the advisory.

Edward and Morgan Hernandez, owners of Ed & Mo’s Diner, said the restaurant was closed on May 28, but business was slow the next day.

“We had three people in probably four hours,” Morgan said. “It was bad. They were coming in saying, ‘We want some water without diesel.’ Our first year of business there were times when we had a two-hour gap in between tables coming in. This was worse.”

Edward said while the city lifted the water advisory, people were still wary of drinking the water. “That’s why they weren’t coming in,” he said.

Negherbon said in an interview he noticed some businesses didn’t close on May 28 despite the city’s water advisory. He added it would be “unethical” for business owners to make a claim for damages if they didn’t close.

“You should have some way of documenting you were actually closed and incurred some loss, because I know not all restaurants closed, and that could be a problem later on,” he said at the meeting.

Negherbon said the city is still running on the South Umpqua Water Treatment Plant while it continues flushing the Springbrook plant.

The incident is on the City Council’s agenda for its regular meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday.

Max Egener can be reached at megener@nrtoday.com and 541-957-4217. Or follow him on Twitter @maxegener.

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City Reporter

Max Egener is the city reporter for The News-Review. He has a master's degree from the University of Oregon, and is an avid skier and backpacker.

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