State to replace fuel tanks, pay EPA penalty

$24 million project to install underground containers at MTA yards

December 07, 2006|By Greg Garland | Greg Garland,Sun reporter

State transportation officials said yesterday they expect to spend $24 million over the next five years to replace underground fuel storage tanks that fail to meet U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards.

The tanks are at a dozen Maryland Transit Administration facilities and store the diesel fuel and gasoline used by buses, MARC trains and other state vehicles, officials said.

James F. Ports Jr., deputy secretary of the Department of Transportation, told the Board of Public Works yesterday that the tank replacements are part of a negotiated settlement with EPA that also requires the state to pay a penalty of $172,207.

Federal law was changed in 1990 to require that fuel storage tanks be double-walled to protect against possible leaks, Ports said. They were supposed to be replaced by 1998, he said.

"We're paying a price now because it wasn't done," Ports said.

An EPA spokeswoman said that the agency's dealings with the state to resolve the issue have been positive.

"We do have an agreement in principle," said Bonnie Smith, the spokeswoman. "I can't go into the details until the agreement is final and signed."

Ports said problems with the tanks, which hold 10,000 to 20,000 gallons of fuel, surfaced before the Ehrlich administration took office in January 2003. Half are in Baltimore, and the others are spread across the state, including facilities in Glen Burnie, Middle River and Pikesville.

In 2002, he said, the Maryland Department of the Environment ran pressure tests that indicated "possible leaks" in fuel tanks at two MTA facilities in Baltimore, Ports said.

The facilities involved are the Bush Street bus garage near Washington Boulevard and the Northwest maintenance shop on Wabash Avenue near the Metro stop, Ports said.

Even if the tanks leaked, Ports said, it should not have posed a health risk to drinking water because none of the people who live in the vicinity draw water from wells.

He said the results of the 2002 test done by state environmental officials were turned over to MTA but nothing was done. It's not clear why, Ports said.

Three years later, the EPA found out about the earlier tests and cited the state for using tanks that it knew did not meet federal standards, according to Ports.

"These two facilities are the most urgent," he said. "The tanks are out of the ground. We have temporary tanks in place, and both of the facilities should be completed by May."

The agreement negotiated with the EPA called for a further inspection of tanks and waste oil storage and handling practices at all facilities.

"We agreed to inspect, cleanup and repair all of the other facilities, too, and bring everything into compliance," Ports said.

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