Court order needed to get station to clean up MTBE damage |

Court order needed to get station to clean up MTBE damage

Under a court order, a South Lake Tahoe gas station is expanding its cleanup of soil polluted by a fuel additive.

California water quality regulators ordered the additional work two years ago but Tahoe Tom’s only agreed to the additional cleanup measures in September after El Dorado County Superior Court ordered it.

“We felt some spots were not being addressed,” said Lisa Dernbach, senior engineering geologist at Lahontan Regional Water Control Board. “We’re very happy with the current progress now.”

The fuel additive, MTBE, or methyl tertiary butyl ether, polluted dirt and water underneath the Park Avenue and Highway 50 station. Its underground tanks failed to register as being full, so gasoline suppliers had no way to know they were overfilling the tanks, Dernbach said.

MTBE was banned from gasoline in the county in 2000. The additive, designed to reduce air pollution, polluted groundwater and soil as far as two blocks north of the station.

Cleanup efforts have occurred intermittently at Tahoe Tom’s since the pollution was discovered in 1998. Lahontan still has an outstanding fine of $131,000 against the owner of the station, Tom Erickson, for not carrying out previous directives from the board fast enough, Dernbach said.

Erickson lives in Oregon and could not be reached for comment. The MTBE-related cleanup work at his station, about $1 million thus far, is being reimbursed through a 1 cent per gallon gasoline tax levied throughout the state. Erickson resisted the latest recommended cleanup measure under advice from a consultant, Dernbach said.

Contaminated soil and groundwater that spread from Tahoe Tom’s is expected to take two to four years to treat. Lahontan, for years, has tested public and private water wells around the gas station and has not found any contamination.

In other MTBE news:

In July, California’s budget crunch caused Lahontan to shut down its cleanup of the MTBE-contaminated groundwater at the Meyers Beacon gas station.

A plume of contaminated groundwater that spread from a leaking gas line is threatening the Upper Truckee River. The extraction wells, including four new wells installed near the head of the plume, are expected to resume operation next week.

“We have consultants testing the wells to see where the plume has migrated to,” Dernbach said. “We don’t know how far it’s migrated since the system has been down.”

Lahontan has spent $1.2 million on cleanup at the gas station. Last year, 400 cubic feet of contaminated dirt was removed from the site.

Last summer, the El Dorado County Department of Environmental Management locked up the gasoline pumps at Meyers Beacon because Sarbjit “Sam” Kang, who bought the station at auction, failed to file its grant deed at the County Recorder’s Office.

— Gregory Crofton can be reached at (530) 542-8045 or by e-mail at

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