Originally created 08/18/99

Tank's leak stops work on water line



A leaking underground gas tank that halted work on a Columbia County water main last week should have been cleaned up a decade ago -- but wasn't.

Georgia's Environmental Protection Division issued a cleanup order for the site at 255 N. Belair Road in July 1990, two years after contamination was found, according to EPD records.

At the time, the property was occupied by a Majik Market store that later went out of business, said Jeff Babb, an environmental engineer with EPD's Underground Storage Tank Program.

"Sometime in July 1990 we expected a corrective action plan and it apparently was never submitted," he said. "We didn't know about it and it just fell through the cracks."

The leaking gas tank beneath the former convenience store will have to be removed -- and nearby soil exhumed -- before the site can be certified as safe, he said.

Last week, workers installing a 20-inch water main encountered flammable, gas-soaked soil, and were forced to postpone that portion of the job.

Columbia County is working with EPD to determine who will bear cleanup costs, said Pam Tucker, Columbia County's emergency management director.

Work will begin soon.

"The urgency is so the water line can be constructed," Mrs. Tucker said. "EPD has advised that no work continue on the pipe until it's cleaned up."

The 20-inch main will link Columbia County's drinking water production plant in Evans and a new, 5 million gallon storage tank a few blocks from the contaminated site.

The $1.5 million tank filled for the first time Tuesday, Waterworks Director Billy Clayton said. Completing the pipeline will enable the tank to go into active use serving residents.

Although contractors cannot complete the pipe through the contaminated area, workers are continuing to work elsewhere. "In another week, that'll be the only part not completed," he said.

Mr. Babb said EPD is working to determine who will clean up the area. If no responsible party can be identified, the state has a trust fund available that can be used to finance some types of cleanups.

Abandoned tanks are a concern because leaking gasoline can contaminate soil and groundwater with toxic benzene and other chemicals. Leaking gas can also collect in sewers or storm drains, causing explosions.

Robert Pavey can be reached at 868-1222, Ext. 119, or rpavey@augustachronicle.com.