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Meyers gas station questions MTBE leak source

Andy Bourelle

Joe Tveten thinks there has been a mistake.

Tveten owns the Meyers Beacon gas station, which has been closed for nearly a month. It was believed – by El Dorado County, the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board and Tveten himself – that his property is the source of a large MTBE plume.

Work is currently under way at his site, and with recent information, Tveten now believes the leak came from somewhere else.

“I’ve had a loss of business, a loss of reputation, and it’s clear I didn’t do it,” Tveten said.

MTBE – a gasoline additive classified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as a possible human carcinogen – was detected in two of South Tahoe Public Utility District’s nearby wells in November 1997.

After investigations were completed, officials determined only Tveten’s site could have been the source. No other MTBE levels – in any significant amount – were detected at any other nearby locations with gasoline tanks.

The groundwater at the Meyers station had MTBE levels at 28,000 parts per billion.

Tveten recently has had excavation completed around his tanks and says it’s obvious no leaks occurred.

“It’s just the driest, most exciting looking dirt you’ve ever seen,” he said.

Tveten said he thinks, although the MTBE was detected on his property, the source must have been from somewhere else.

Leaks have been detected in the station’s piping, but Tveten said the system has primary and secondary lines, and the leaks had been contained.

El Dorado County and Lahontan think it’s a little too early to celebrate.

“At this point, there is no evidence of contamination into the groundwater from under the pipes,” said Ginger Huber, Lake Tahoe division manager for El Dorado County Environmental Management. “They are still in the process of investigating.”

Lauri Kemper, chief of Lahontan’s Lake Tahoe unit, said the contamination could have come from a variety of sources and not necessarily a leak in the tanks or piping.

“There is still plenty of evidence there is contamination in the ground right around their site, and there’s no evidence that it came from another site,” she said.

Earlier this year, Lahontan fined the J.E. Tveten Corporation $84,000 for having leaked MTBE into the groundwater and failing to comply with clean-up orders. Tveten is in the process of appealing the fine.

El Dorado County forced the gas station to shut down at the end of August, after inspections revealed what Huber described as “numerous violations relating to the actual equipment on site and operational procedures.”

Lahontan has taken over remediation of the site, and the California Regional Water Quality Control Board approved last week the expenditure of $200,000 to the Lahontan region to clean up the MTBE contamination plume in Meyers.

Lahontan previously received $100,000 for the cleanup.

Kemper said cleanup at the site is going to include digging up the contaminated soil and shipping it out of the basin. The cost of the cleanup is estimated at $500,000.

STPUD currently is in the process of destroying the two wells contaminated by the plume as well as installing a new one to make up for the loss. The project is expected to cost about $250,000.

Tveten had new double-walled underground storage tanks and a secondary containment system installed in 1996.

He said he currently is involved in litigation against the contractor who installed the system. With the new information, he said he might be involved in more litigation.

“I imagine, as soon as I get a little more information, I’ll be suing Lahontan for all the grief they’ve caused me,” he said.

Kemper said the new information does not change anything from Lahontan’s perspective.

“We definitely feel the gasoline came from somewhere on his property,” she said.

Tahoe Daily Tribune E-mail: tribune@tahoe.com

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