BUHL — Yellow caution tape and fencing surrounded heavy equipment and crews Thursday morning as they removed contaminated soil from the site of a diesel leak in a pipeline north of town. The hillside overlooking Melon Valley swarmed with men and women in hard hats, and a guard stood at the gate to the pasture.
Andeavor pipeline spokesman Brad Shafer said the company doesn’t know what caused the metal to give out, releasing refined diesel fuel into the soil. The fuel was on its way through its common-carrier pipeline from Wyoming and Salt Lake City to Boise and Pasco, Wash.
A neighbor smelled diesel Tuesday evening along 1400 East, Shafer said. He reported the odor to Williams Northwest Pipeline, transporters of natural gas through southern Idaho. Williams, in turn, contacted officials with Andeavor, an independent refining and logistics company formerly known as Tesoro Corp. The company responded and confirmed diesel fuel leaked from its pipeline into a draw below a spring and found its way to a livestock pond.
The diesel- and jet-fuel pipeline, which runs alongside Williams Pipeline, was formerly owned by Chevron Corp.
“We were just out there and didn’t smell anything,” said Mike Hamilton, who owns the ground with his wife Sally. “It’s an unfortunate thing.”
But it could have been worse, Sally Hamilton said. “They’ve been nothing but quick to respond.”
The Hamiltons graze 30 or 40 cow-calf pairs in the pasture starting early to mid-May, so no cattle were in the field when the leak occurred.
The pipeline was shut down Wednesday to stop the flow, Shafer said Thursday morning. Officials, crews and environmental specialists descended on the site, unearthed the pipe and found a small hole. The faulty section of 8-inch pipe was removed and sent for metallurgy tests to determine what went wrong.
The pipeline is being repaired and will be back in service pending approval by government regulators, he said.
Meanwhile, cleanup crews continue to excavate yard after yard of contaminated soil from the hillside, placing it in roll-off containers to be whisked away to a hazardous materials facility.
“From what I understand, they plan to bring in good soil to replace the contaminated soil,” Sally Hamilton said.
Because diesel floats on water, little fuel escaped from the outlet at the bottom of the pond, Shafer said.
A floating dam called a boom encircles the pond, corralling the fuel on top of the water. Clean water is being pumped from the bottom of the pond. A separate boom absorbs the fuel.
“There’s a lot of high-tech things going on to take care of the problem,” Mike Hamilton said. “They’ve brought in a lot of qualified people.”
TWIN FALLS — A few years ago, Carole Malone’s tremors and spasms became so intense she could barely move.
The Twin Falls resident, who has had Parkinson’s disease for 30 years, used to wear a helmet in case she banged her head against a wall. But now, less than two months after having deep brain stimulation surgery, her symptoms have significantly improved.
“I’m still in awe,” Malone said Wednesday while sitting at a table at O’Dunken’s Draught House in downtown Twin Falls. It has definitely been life-changing, said her sister Bev O’Connor, who owns the pub.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved a new technology — Abbott’s Infinity DBS System — in October 2016. Since then, the University of Utah Hospital has implanted it in three patients, including Malone. It’s the only hospital in the Utah/Idaho region so far using the new technology.
It’s a good medical advancement, said Dr. John Rolston, director of functional neurosurgery at University of Utah Health. “The results have been fantastic. All three patients are much improved since before the surgery.”
DBS has been used since the late 1980s as a surgical therapy for movement disorders — mainly Parkinson’s, but also dystonia and essential tremor, Rolston said.
Parkinson’s is a degenerative central nervous system disorder that affects movement and can cause other problems such as depression. It happens as a result of nerve cells breaking down or dying in a person’s brain.
The new technology is amazing and it’s the first new DBS upgrade in about 20 years, said Dr. Saulena Shafer, who works with movement disorder patients at the University of Utah. “It’s really revolutionized the system.”
The new electrode allows for proper tremor and movement control, Shafer said, without electricity hitting other areas of the brain and causing side effects.
Under the new technology, the electrode has eight metal contacts — up from four in traditional DBS systems. In order to get good control under older systems, “you can actually stop people from talking, depending on how much electricity you use,” Shafer said.
It meant patients were sometimes left to make a difficult choice — either being able to move or talk. “They don’t have to do that anymore,” she said.
So how is the surgery performed? A small, thin electrode about the thickness of a piece of spaghetti is implanted into parts of the brain such as the thalamus or basal ganglia, Rolston said.
For those with Parkinson’s, it makes an immediate impact on the tremors they experience, he said. “It can basically stop the tremor when the electrode is on.”
It can also equate to giving patients five or six more meaningful hours of time each day, he said, when they were previously immobile or held back by the disease.
Tremors typically only respond to medication about 50 percent of the time, Shafer said. “The DBS will handle the tremor better than anything else we have technology-wise.”
Malone moved to Twin Falls two years ago from Alameda, Calif., near San Francisco, where she’d spent her entire life. She worked as a city bus driver for 10 years, which she described as stressful — not because of the traffic, but because of the people.
After her Parkinson’s symptoms intensified, “my sister brought me here,” Malone said. “She came and got me.”
Here in Twin Falls, she saw Dr. Richard Hammond — a neurologist at St. Luke’s Magic Valley Medical Center — who asked if she’d considered DBS.
Malone and O’Connor had heard about the surgery. They attend Parkinson’s support group meetings in Jerome and had met a woman who’d gone through it.
Hammond suggested calling the University of Utah and being persistent, O’Connor said. She and Malone called every Monday and about a year later in June 2017, Malone had her first visit to see if she’d be a good candidate for DBS.
Malone underwent surgery Feb. 19 and spent one night in the hospital before heading home to Twin Falls. Two weeks later, she returned to Salt Lake City to get a pulse generator implanted and it was turned on about three weeks after that.
“It was a lot more simple than we anticipated,” O’Connor said.
Now, she hopes to reach out to people who have Parkinson’s — including through her local support group — who don’t know about the surgery.
Despite medical challenges, O’Connor said her sister stays active. “She’s never given up. She’s never given into it. She’s fought it.”
Malone volunteers at O’Dunken’s, helping with tasks such as handing out menus to customers. She wears a special badge with a message telling people to be nice to her because she’s a volunteer.
Malone said customers were praying for her. “All the customers want to know what’s going on,” O’Connor said.
Malone is among three sisters working at O’Dunken’s. When she’s having a challenging day and her siblings tell her she should take a nap, she pushes back.
“No, I don’t take naps,” she said Wednesday.
After brain surgery, the recovery has gone smoothly, Malone said. “I almost forgot I had Parkinson’s.”
There aren’t many hospitals in the Intermountain West that perform deep brain stimulation. It’s not offered at any Magic Valley hospitals but is at St. Luke’s Boise Medical Center. The hospital implants Medtronic systems in two to four patients each month.
The surgery is performed either while the patient is awake for parts of the procedure to interact with the surgical team or the newer asleep method — which Malone opted for — under general anesthesia and using an MRI scanner.
The surgery takes about half a day and patients stay overnight in the hospital.
Later, they undergo an outpatient surgery to have a pulse generator for the electrode — which Rolston described as a “brain pacemaker” — implanted under their collarbone.
The new system uses wireless controls and the patient has an iPod touch-like system they can use to change the range of electrical stimulation a little.
Most patients leave the device on 24/7, but some turn it off when they go to sleep when they’re not as troubled by their symptoms.
On Wednesday at O’Dunken’s, Malone pulled back her thick fuzzy black headband to reveal a surgical scar on top of her head.
Holding her pulse generator control system in one hand, she said: “It’s connecting to where the generator is in my chest.” She can tap a plus or minus button to control the level of electrical stimulation and adjust it for one side of her body or the other.
After she finished demonstrating how it works, Malone put the device back into a plastic pouch and then into a denim bag with the phrase “Contents: my life” on the front.
Malone and O’Connor were slated to return Thursday to the University of Utah for the final pulse generator programming to turn it on all the way. Malone was using a lower level of electrical stimulation before that while her brain was healing from the surgery.
The sisters refer to the stimulation as “zapping,” and it’s something they joke about together. But on a serious note, everyone around Malone has seen the improvement, O’Connor said.
Recently, O’Connor received a text message from her sister saying she was going to take a shower and would meet her in 30 minutes. That was unheard of before the surgery.
It used to take Malone two hours — or sometimes, much longer — just to get dressed, because of the intensity of her tremors.
“Things like that are life-changing for Parkinson’s,” O’Connor said.
And when Malone helps at O’Dunken’s now, there’s a fun perk: Her hands are steady enough to pour her own beer.
*Editor's note: This story was updated April 6 to correct the date the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Abbott’s Infinity DBS System.
If you do one thing: Magic Philharmonic Orchestra presents its spring concert at 7:30 p.m. at the King Fine Arts Center, 1 Bobcat Blvd., Burley. Admission is $10 for adults and $3 for students. Tickets are available at Welch Music and Book Plaza, Burley, and The Book Store, Rupert.
TWIN FALLS — A forlorn thrift store building sits on a major corner in downtown Twin Falls, but in another year or two, it could become a bustling center for downtown apartments and retail.
The Twin Falls Urban Renewal Agency paid $470,000 for the former Idaho Youth Ranch building earlier this year, with plans to draw in developers for downtown housing. In March, the URA received two proposals from companies wishing to turn the corner into a mixed-use development with retail and apartments — but the scope of each project is vastly different.
Given its proximity to the Twin Falls Commons plaza (opening this summer) and the new City Hall, the corner is ripe for some kind of development. The URA meets at noon Monday to determine which, if either, of the proposals will best serve downtown Twin Falls at 160 Main Ave. E.
“Both projects bring significant financial investment to downtown and are complimentary to the recent Main Avenue redesign and Downtown Commons,” URA Executive Director Nathan Murray said in his report.
The first proposal is from a consortium of regional partners with experience in the area — Summit Creek Capital, Redstone Development, Pivot North Architecture and HC Co. These partners propose replacing the Youth Ranch building with a four-story multi-use building, with a parking garage in the lot behind it.
The other proposal is from St. Louis-based Paramount Property Development, which aims to restore the building to its historical appearance to host a restaurant, retail and apartments.
Either group would pay the URA $100 for the lot. Here are the details of their proposals:
The joint venture calls its project “OneSixty.” While the new building would bring significantly more investment into downtown, it would also require much more from the URA.
First, the URA would have to demolish the existing building and level off the property for development. The partnering companies would construct a $5 million, 34,000 square-foot building in its place.
“Our engineering analysis concluded that the building was not structurally sound and worth saving,” said Tyler Davis-Jeffers, managing director of Summit Creek Capital.
The first floor of the new building would be about two-thirds retail or similar businesses and one-third office space. The second story would be offices — Kickback Points LLC has asked to lease the space for about 50 employees.
The third and fourth stories are proposed to house 24 studio and one-bedroom apartments.
“It’s been really nice to see Main Avenue finished and other businesses moving in there,” Davis-Jeffers said. “We love the downtown area. We’re pretty committed to trying to revitalize that area.”
Summit Creek Capital is involved with restoring the Historic Elks Lodge nearby. The company has already gotten letters of support from Kickback Points, Clif Bar Baking Co. and the College of Southern Idaho for this project. And it’s likely to get funding from the Montana and Idaho Community Development Corp.
But then there’s concerns over parking. In order to provide the extra parking for residents and employees, the joint venture has proposed a one-story parking structure behind the building. This would increase the existing parking spaces, with room to expand the structure vertically in the future.
The URA is being asked to pay for 85 percent — or $850,000 — of the cost of that structure. Some of the parking would be for public use, and the URA would retain ownership of the structure, Davis-Jeffers said. The rest of the parking could be leased for the businesses and residents.
As proposed, construction would take place from February 2019 to March 2020. The partnership estimates the development would create 80 permanent jobs, as well as bring housing to downtown.
“We’re trying to really make a larger impact on downtown other than repairing that building,” he said. “We’re pretty hopeful. Our proposal was pretty solid.”
The proposal from Paramount Property Development is to remove all metal cladding and stone that’s been added, and bring the building back to its original look as closely as possible. The company estimates a $1.9 million investment.
Construction would start this summer and be completed in early 2019. The first floor would be home to a restaurant, a retail store, restrooms and apartments. The second floor would be entirely apartments. The 10 residential units would range in size from 750 to 1,200 square feet.
The monthly rents are proposed at $863 for the eight one-bedroom units, and $1,200 for the two two-bedroom units.
Paramount Property Development has experience in renovating historic buildings and converting them into residential units. It does not appear to have done any projects in the Twin Falls area before. A call to the company was left unanswered Thursday.
The building at 160 Main Ave. E. was constructed in 1905 as Allen Mercantile Co. and later renamed the Idaho Department Store. Its top floor served as the county courthouse from 1907 to 1910.
TWIN FALLS — Students and employees were evacuated Thursday from Twin Falls High School after a heating unit malfunctioned.
Students and staff were evacuated from Twin Falls High‘s main buildings to the school’s Roper Auditorium, and were all safe and accounted for, said Bill Brulotte, associate superintendent of the Twin Falls School District.
The incident originated in the science wing at Twin Falls High and set off a fire alarm, Brulotte said.
Students were allowed to return to the main building around 11:30 a.m. after the Twin Falls School District received the all-clear from the fire department and Intermountain Gas Co.
The cause of the incident was a heat exchanger that started leaking in a heating unit in the chemistry lab, Brulotte said.
No-one was ever in any imminent danger, he said, but there was a natural gas smell. The heating unit has been turned off and the company that installed it will come to look at it.