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State sues gas station over leaky underground tanks

Court documents allege the owner of Cenex in Elgin has released pollutants that pose "significant risk" to both residents and the environment.

ELGIN, Minnesota — The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) is suing the owner of a southeastern Minnesota gas station, accusing them of failing to address a fuel leak that polluted soil groundwater while putting both residents and the environment at risk. 

Court documents detail the civil action taken against Gurek Inc. and Tejinder Singh, owner of the Cenex gas station in Elgin. The lawsuit accuses Tejinder of violating a number of Minnesota statutes and rules governing petroleum handling, underground storage tanks and water quality. 

Investigators began looking into the matter beginning in late March of 2022 when an individual contacted the city of Elgin and reported a strong odor of gasoline coming from a storm sewer near the Cenex station. MPCA staff traced the leak to the gas station, and an environmental contractor was sent to recover gasoline from the sewer line and ensure an explosion did not occur. 

A subsequent probe into the station's operations revealed a leak detection system installed to monitor the station's tanks was not operational, and investigators allege that the owner and employees were hitting a reset button so they could keep pumping gasoline.

MPCA alleges that when an undergound storage tank contractor was brought in, holes were discovered in pipes attached to both the unleaded and premium tanks. 

The same month that the leaks were detected the agency received a complaint from a resident of a nearby apartment complex that water coming from their kitchen faucet smelled of gas. MPCA began supplying residents in the apartment complex bottled water while investigators attempted to determine the larger implications of the gas leaks. 

Documents allege other at least two other residences were impacted as well. 

In November of 2022 MPCA issued an administrative order to the defendant ordering him to remove the station's three underground tanks, but the agency says the owner did not comply. An emergency order followed to protect human health and the environment, and MPCA says the removal of the tanks resulted in the recovery of 4,500 gallons of spilled gasoline and the removal of 2,233 yards of petroleum-contaminated soil. 

Among other things, the lawsuit alleges that the defendants:

  • Failed to comply with MPCA's administrative order and Minnesota's environmental protection statutes
  • Committed oil and hazardous substance violations
  • Violated underground storage tank rules
  • Committed water quality violations
  • Created a public nuisance
  • Failed to reimburse MPCA for environmental response

MPCA is seeking to have the court order Singh and Gurek Inc. comply with the administrative order, declare that the station is in violation of MPCA statutes and rules, levy a civil penalty for failure to comply with state law and reimburse MPCA for costs and expenses related to cleanup and court fees. 


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