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Published: Friday, 2/15/2013

Seneca County Engineer puzzled why state is concerned about contamination years after cleanup

BY LISA SWICKARD
SPECIAL TO THE BLADE

TIFFIN — The state agency that regulates underground storage tanks has ordered the Seneca County commissioners to revisit a 20-year-old contamination issue at the Seneca County garage.

County Administrator Stacy Wilson informed the commissioners Thursday that the Bureau of Underground Storage Tank Regulations has given the county 30 days to develop a remedial action plan to address the issue of contamination at the highway maintenance garage, 3390 S. State Rt. 100.

Failure to do so could result in a $10,000-a-day fine for the county.

What started as a tiny leak in an underground gas tank two decades ago has become a recurring nightmare for Seneca County Engineer Mark Zimmerman, who said the site has been cleaned up since November, 2007.

According to the engineer, in the early 1990s it was discovered that one of two 10,000-gallon steel tanks — in place since the 1960s — had developed a pinhole leak that contaminated the soil around the pumps.

At that time, the old pumps were removed and replaced with fiber-glass ones.

Then in January, 2006, the state informed the county that the site had to be cleaned up according to the environmental standards that were developed in the mid-1990s.

“We hired a firm that did a remedial action plan, core samples, and monitoring,” Mr. Zimmerman said. “We dug up about 400 cubic yards of contaminated soil, and all along we tested the outlying edges of the dig to make sure we were complying with the minimum standards. The preliminary results from BUSTR indicated we were OK.”

In November 2007, the state again contacted the county.

This time, the agency required another remedial action plan to ensure that any remaining contamination was not going to be detrimental to anyone in the area. The county garage sits alone on a sizable lot, and Mr. Zimmerman said there are no drinking wells within 1,000 feet.

At that time, the county again complied. Mr. Zimmerman said a conference call with state representatives in late 2008 led him to believe the matter was settled — until the county commissioners received the letter last week that revived the issue.

He said the most recent correspondence was not a result of a personal inspection, but rather stemmed from a review of old paperwork.

“It's totally out of the blue. I thought we were done with this years ago,” Mr. Zimmerman said. “I can't think of what would have triggered this. We have not been getting annual correspondence from them. In fact, we've been getting exemplary reports from our BUSTR inspector who comes every year.”

In any event, Mr. Zimmerman said the county will again comply with the agency's directive.

“They're asking for a Tier 1 site inspection, which means we will probably be doing test bores, core samples, and drilling all around the excavation area, as well as drilling deeper through the excavation to find out what contamination might still exist,” he said. “If they are not pleased with the results, we will have to identify the area where we will have to dig out everything we've already done.

“It's to the point where I wonder if this is the wisest use of taxpayer dollars — to clean up a site that's already clean enough,” Mr. Zimmerman said.



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