|The coming CVS brings money for cleanup.
You’ve heard about the backlash against Blarney Castle’s proposed – and now rescinded – plan to add a fuel depot to one of its local gas stations. It got The Ticker wondering about all the tanks in our region that we can’t see.
Turns out, more than 100 sites in Grand Traverse County are contaminated by leaky underground storage tanks.
Most are from gas stations and other businesses that installed and used underground storage tanks nearly a half-century or more ago, when few environmental regulations existed. And while most of the tanks have been removed in recent decades, plumes of petroleum remain, threatening local drinking wells, the Grand Traverse Bay and other area lakes and rivers.
The complexity and expense of remediation has made cleanup slow, but that might be changing; the state legislature is considering rule changes that could speed up the process of approving and signing off on cleanups of the sites.
The Big Three Changes
1. The Department of Environmental Quality would have to give thumbs up or down to proposed cleanups within 90 days of application – half the time now required. The agency’s oversight and involvement in the cleanups would likewise be reduced.
2. Lawsuit damages against tank owners would be capped at $50 million; the state would be prohibited from making laws more severe than federal laws.
3. Some pollutants could remain in the ground, as long as they don’t pose a health threat to people.
Scott Howard – of the TC firm Olson, Bzdok and Howard, and attorney for the Grand Traverse County Brownfield Redevelopment Authority – says he has mixed feelings about the proposed changes.
“We don’t want to sacrifice thoroughness for expediency,” Howard says. “The goal is to clean these up – but also to do it right.”
A local site that’s become a top priority of late is the intersection of Front and Division streets, which four gas stations have called home – each one known to have contributed to a plume under the intersection that is on the move towards Kids Creek and Grand Traverse Bay, says Jean Derenzy, Brownfield Redevelopment Authority coordinator for Grand Traverse County.
She says a system of pumps is already in place to keep pollution from flowing over to the southwest corner, where Hand Surgery of Northern Michigan stands.
An underground “sparge” system – designed to remediate groundwater pollution – will also be installed on the northeast corner before construction begins in May or June on a CVS Pharmacy. That system will cost more than $200,000 and will be funded with a loan from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.
“It’s hard to get under those buildings once they’re built,” Derenzy says.
But $6 million more is needed to get the entire intersection taken care of the way the Brownfield Authority would like it to be. Derenzy says she’d like to get all the plumes cleaned up once and for all, to prevent contamination from flowing back under the buildings.
The problem: There is currently no other source of funding, though officials are looking for the money through state sources and from the potentially liable parties.
Will the new rules help? Once a plan is sent to the state for review, sure, says Howard. But the main obstacle holding up progress on cleanup efforts is something state rules can’t change: getting the potentially liable parties to agree on the percentage for which each is responsible.