Lahontan helping gas stations cleanup jobs |

Lahontan helping gas stations cleanup jobs

Andy Bourelle

Gas station owners and operators can obtain $1 million from the state of California to help clean up gasoline contamination. However, when contamination contains MTBE – which moves quickly in groundwater and breaks down very slowly – $1 million may not go as far as you might think.

Tahoe Tom’s on Lake Tahoe Boulevard is a perfect example.

The station has spent its $1 million and has exhausted its own resources. The Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board took over remediation there earlier this month. The state board has authorized $900,000 from an “emergency, abandoned,

recalcitrant fund” for Lahontan to use there over the next year. Lahontan then will have to pursue obtaining more money from the fund. Officials estimate it will cost $4 million over the next five years to clean up the contamination.

Lahontan already is cleaning up contamination at the Meyers Beacon station.

“It’s possible (Lahontan will have to take over cleanup at more area stations),” said Lauri Kemper, chief of Lahontan’s Lake Tahoe unit. “We also hope the cap will be raised. That’s something that was in the governor’s executive order, to increase the amount of money available to stations.”

Lahontan plans to expand the existing cleanup system at Tahoe Tom’s.

The contaminant plume threatens several private and public wells, but none have been contaminated.

Kemper said the cleanup at Tahoe Tom’s likely will be more costly than most sites. Contamination – without MTBE – existed there from the 1980s. The station was trying to clean it up when another leak was discovered in December 1996. High levels of MTBE were found.

Kemper said the agency responds as quickly as possible to contamination discoveries now, which keeps cleanup costs down on the more recent releases.

The largest contaminant plume on South Shore comes from the USA station at the “Y.” Many drinking water wells in the “Y” area have been threatened or contaminated from the plume. Kemper said USA already has spent $2 million on cleanup.

MTBE – methyl tertiary butyl ether – is considered a possible cancer-causing agent, and, at very low levels of contamination, it makes water undrinkable. It was announced earlier this week that MTBE has contaminated as many as 14,000 sites in California.

California Gov. Gray Davis has ordered that the gasoline additive be phased out of use in the next three years.

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