Havre Daily News
Landowners won't be on their own if contaminated soil is found beneath First Street during a large reconstruction project and is linked to their properties, state officials told an audience of about 40 residents and business owners Monday night.
Two petroleum release specialists with the state Department of Environmental Quality and a geologist with the Montana Department of Transportation answered questions about petroleum leakage, and contaminated water and soil.
One of the main concerns with the massive First Street reconstruction project is that workers will find contaminated soil and water when installing new water and sewer lines, said Cora Helm, a geologist who works for MDT's hazardous waste section.
Some in Havre are concerned that unknown contamination, when discovered, could affect their properties. In some situations, landowners will be responsible for the cleanup costs, whether or not they caused the contamination.
Jeff Kuhn, DEQ petroleum release section manager, said 16 to 18 sites potentially contributed to contamination beneath First Street. Kuhn said most sources are abandoned fuel storage tank facilities.
“Why so many petroleum problems in Havre? The soil is more corrosive than most, the ground water is shallow, there is a long history of gas stations on many street corners and many tanks are from the '50s and '60s and don't have exterior protective coating,” he said.
If the contamination is found on land that was previously a gas station, the current owner will be responsible for the clean-up. The owner can apply for help from the Petroleum Tank Release Compensation Board, which usesa cost-share agreement to split the first $35,000 for the cleanup, leaving the owner to pay $17,500, Kuhn said. After the first $35,000, the board will fund 100 percent of the costs to a capacity of $1 million total.
“What if I don't have $17,500? I'm a car dealer. I know you can't get blood from a stone. I have people who owe me $17,000,” Gary Reighard, general manager of North Star Dodge, said at the meeting.
Helm said MDT doesn't expect to encounter a lot of contamination and can get federal reimbursement for cleaning up soil.
“We make a decision if we'd spent enough money to go out after the business, and we usually don't,” she said. “The worst thing that's going to happen if we find contamination at the Dodge dealer is we at the highway department need to report it to DEQ. We can't halt construction for cleanup. It will start the DEQ processes.”
Kuhn added that the dealership is not currently on the known contamination list.
Many voiced concern over diesel fuel contamination by the BNSF Railway. Kuhn said DEQ has an expert dealing with the railroad. That person was not at the meeting.
Others were concerned that soil could become contaminated again, after the cleanup is complete.
Pete Bergeron, DEQ environmental science specialist, said contaminated soil will be removed and trench plugs isolate contaminated water.
“I thought this was going to be a nightmare. We don't hit groundwater as much as you'd think,” Helm said. “If we don't hit it, we don't have to treat it.”
Erik Meis, owner of EMT and Blue Bear car washes, said he is getting funding from the petroleum board. Meis said he found contamination in October 2001 and has until August to clean the area.
“You're $17,000 is not all at once,” he said to the audience. “It's a long project. DEQ's been really good to me.”
Meis said he found the contamination when he drilled on his own to survey for a later sale.
“If you are looking at selling in the future, $1,000 a hole is money well-spent,” he added.
Helm said that MDT doesn't like surprises and has made every effort to find contamination before construction begins.
“There shouldn't be that many. My experience with other jobs is that surprises we hit normally aren't big, but are localized,” she said. “But, I am going to keep my fingers crossed.”
Helm said MDT is still studying how it will treat and dispose of contaminated soil.
The First Street project is set to begin in spring of 2007. Improvements will include 33 blocks of total infrastructure reconstruction.
DEQ has a simplified process for businesses and landowners to address suspected or confirmed contamination, which was available in handouts at the meeting and can be accessed at the DEQ Web site.
On the Net: www.deq.mt.gov/ust/mustnews/mustwinter2006.pdf.