State responds to county consultant’s concerns about central office site

SALISBURY — The state has defended contamination cleanup and ongoing monitoring at the proposed downtown school central office site after a Rowan County consultant criticized the efforts and raised additional environmental concerns about the location.

The Post asked the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources and Dan Graham, the state’s project manager for the massive cleanup at 329 S. Main St., to respond to an Aug. 5 report from Golder Associates NC to Rowan County. Graham is a hydrogeologist with N.C. DENR.

Graham, who works in the N.C. Division of Waste Management’s Underground Storage Tank Section, disagreed with Golder’s assertion that an assessment of the central office site was incomplete and that the property needs more soil testing before construction could begin.

The state has given the site a green light for development, but a majority of county commissioners will not allow the school system to enter a lease-purchase agreement with the city or a private family willing to finance the school central office because Graham has not issued a No Further Action letter for the property.

More than 3,500 tons of contaminated soil were removed. A monitoring well continues to operate on the property, and Graham has said the site can be developed as long as the well is not disturbed.

“There are no further areas of concern that warrant soil or groundwater testing,” Graham said in an email, sent to the Post by an N.C. DENR spokeswoman.

Graham said he and his colleagues were aware that 329 S. Main was being developed as a school administration building. Golder said the potential presence of children on the property elevates the risk.

“The fact that children may visit the site is not an issue in this site and did not factor into the risk of the site,” Graham said.

‘Vapor intrusion’

Golder raised concerns about a “potential for vapor intrusion” into the central office, once built. But Graham said construction plans call for a vapor barrier to be installed under the building “as a precaution for any perceived vapor intrusion.”

He said the site will be covered by the vapor barrier and pavement when construction is complete.

Golder told the county that extraction using two monitoring wells on the site had lowered concentrations of groundwater contaminants but questioned why remediation had started so early.

“It is entirely appropriate to begin remediation at this phase of the investigation,” Graham said. “All site conditions are not homogeneous, and site specifics are a huge factor in determining the required phase of work after the (Limited Site Assessment.)”

Golder said the city did not comply with the state’s requirement to submit a Comprehensive Site Assessment on the property. But Graham said he determined the study was not necessary.

Even if the Comprehensive Site Assessment and a related Corrective Action Plan had been performed at 329 S. Main, the final remediation method — extracting contaminants and natural attenuation — would have been the same, Graham said.

“By not requiring those phases of work, it alleviates the unnecessary expenditure of state trust funds and will achieve the same end results,” he said.

Golder took issue with groundwater testing that was done, saying samples were not analyzed for a more stringent list of parameters.

Graham said the testing was appropriate. Groundwater samples did not have to be tested for certain contaminants because no soil with kerosene, heating oil, hydraulic fluid or waste oil ever reached the water about 17 feet below ground. Only gasoline reached the groundwater, he said.

Tests for lead and volatile petroleum hydrocarbons, or VPH, were required but omitted at the time of the Limited Site Assessment, Graham said.

He said VPH will be analyzed at the next sampling event, although rules do not require it because the site has been ranked as an intermediate risk.

Lead levels must be analyzed before he issues a No Further Action letter, Graham said. Once the groundwater contamination falls below gross contaminant levels, the site will be ranked as low risk and Graham can issue the letter, he said.

The letter will become valid when a Notice of Residual Petroleum is filed with the Rowan County Register of Deeds and public notice is completed, Graham said.

No drinking water

Although Golder told the county that concentrations of some contaminants at the site are “well above the N.C. drinking water standards,” Graham said that doesn’t matter.

The city will not install a potable well on the property, he said.

“Therefore, drinking water standards do not apply to this site,” Graham said. “Once the city has completed all of the requirements for (No Further Action), it will not be required to do subsequent groundwater testing and the monitoring wells can be abandoned.”

The county has paid Golder, a Greensboro firm, $257,752 since 2007 for environmental management services, including monitoring, reporting and compliance involving landfills and the airport. It’s not clear not much the county has paid Golder to investigate 329 S. Main St.

Golder continued to investigate the downtown site after county commissioners said they had washed their hands of the school central office project.

The city had planned to construct the building and lease it to the school system but pulled its application from the N.C. Local Government Commission, which has to approve before any city can borrow money.

The city cited interference from the county and threatened legal action as reasons for pulling out. County officials denied the accusation, and Rowan County Manager Gary Page on Monday said the city should use DENR’s response to Golder in its application to the Local Government Commission.

The downtown location is not on a list of sites proposed last week by Craig Pierce, vice chairman of the county commissioners, as options for the central office, but city officials continue to pursue the project. An unnamed Salisbury family has offered to finance the $7.3 million central office.

The city also is considering whether there are grounds to sue the county for “slander of title,” saying the county has repeatedly spread false information about environmental contamination at the site, damaging the ability of the city to redevelop or sell the property.

City Manager Doug Paris said he has a legal opinion by City Attorney Rivers Lawther but it falls under the attorney-client privilege exemption to the public records law.

“City Council requested a legal opinion and to discuss options at a future meeting,” Paris said. “We will proceed on that path.”

Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.

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