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County fuel site contaminated

With prodding from the state, the county is expected to fix problems under its Public Works Department compound and connect Jenkins Creek Park restrooms to sewer lines.

By DAN DeWITT

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 16, 2001


BROOKSVILLE -- The state Department of Environmental Protection has found a number of environmental problems at the county's Public Works Department compound on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

Most of these, including groundwater and soil contamination, are typical of places where fuel has been stored and dispensed for years, state officials said. Public health risks are not urgent, they said, but need to be addressed.

"They do have some contamination, and they need to do something about it," said Mike Gonsalves, a DEP geologist.

The County Commission is expected to agree to correct one of the problems when it meets Tuesday.

A private contractor that maintained and operated the fuel pumps between 1998 and 2000 violated several state guidelines. Because of those violations the county was facing $31,000 in fines, Deputy County Administrator Dick Radacky said.

Instead of paying the fines, the state has allowed the county to pay to fix another chronic environmental problem -- repeated failures with the septic system at Jenkins Creek Park. The county will spend about $40,000 to connect the restrooms at the park to sewer lines.

"The FDEP has a program for offsetting penalties, called the In-kind Settlement program," Radacky wrote in a memo to commissioners.

"This program allows, in lieu of a cash penalty, the option of improving a facility which will enhance the FDEP's pollution control activities."

The other problems date back several years, Radacky said. Some are related to the old underground tanks on the site. There is also contamination in a shed where paint and solvents were stored, Gonsalves said.

The county was on the verge of facing fines for these problems, Gonsalves said.

The agency repeatedly sent letters to the county, asking for the county to outline plans to clean up the problem. This problem includes the presence of two highly toxic petroleum byproducts, benzene and toluene, in the groundwater under the facility.

The levels of these chemicals, according to one measure, were more than 200 times the acceptable levels. The situation is not as serious as it sounds, Gonsalves said, because it is contained in a pocket of water just below the surface. It is not a threat to seep into the drinking supply, which is taken from a much deeper source, Gonsalves said.

The state received no response to these requests, until last month. DEP told the county it was referring the matter to its lawyers.

Then, on Jan. 22, the consultant the county hired to clean up the site, Engineering Technology of America Inc. of St. Petersburg, sent two letters to the department, blaming the failure to respond on high staff turnover and outlining plans to clean up the contamination.

"We had a change of personnel which resulted (in) this response falling through the cracks and in the delay of responding to this letter," the company wrote.

"A little prodding got them to move along, I guess," Gonsalves said.

"They still need to take care of it, but with a little more work they ought to be able to."

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