It could cost the state’s Petroleum Trust Fund at least $1.5 million to clean up the environmental pollution caused by leaking underground gasoline and diesel tanks at Eagle Gas at the north end of Carson Street.
The Interim Finance Committee on Tuesday approved using that amount from the fund to reimburse the Division of Environmental Protection for the work. Administrator Colleen Cripps told lawmakers that normally, the property owner would go to the trust fund for the costs, but that in this case, it’s left to the division to do the work.
“The property owner has been unwilling to clean up that property, and we’ve actually gone to court on a number of occasions on this case,” she said.
Interviewed after the hearing, Eagle Gas owner Mohammad Ahmad said he has applied to the trust fund twice.
“They deny it because we cannot find the source of the leak,” he said.
Ahmad said he had a similar situation at another property a decade ago and spent $300,000 to find the source. He said that after he did, he was told the fund would start paying costs of fixing the leak and removing contaminated soil from that point forward. He said that when he sought reimbursement, he was turned down.
He said that as a small businessman, he can’t afford that kind of a hit again.
“I don’t have the money,” Ahmad said. “I feel like I wasn’t treated right here.”
Cripps said the money “will be used to reimburse the division for costs already expended and remediation.”
She said the state used a court order to remove the tanks this fall and has court judgments totaling some $1.6 million against Ahmad. Cripps said the division hasn’t been able to collect, so it put a lien on the property at Hot Springs Road and Carson Street. That way, she said, the state can collect something if Ahmad sells the property.
The division also applied to the federal government for funds but was denied, Cripps said. The division will renew that application before using up trust fund money, she said.
After the tanks were removed, Cripps said, eight leaks were found. The division is trying to determine the extent of the leaks and how far the plume has gone underground — including whether the contamination has reached the groundwater.
That’s why the estimated cost is $700,000 to $1.5 million, she said.
The work must be done because the plume could continue to expand, potentially contaminating water supplies for other businesses in the area, Cripps said.
Sen. Pete Goicoechea, R-Eureka, agreed, saying, “The bottom line is it has to be cleaned up and we (the state) are going to end up owning some property, with a gas station or not.”
The cost will eat up to one-third of the Petroleum Trust Fund, which Cripps described as an insurance fund. But she said gas tax and annual payments by gas stations will replenish it. Over the decades since the fund was created, Cripps said, the fund has paid out $140 million and been used for more than 1,000 cleanups.