Contamination found at central office site

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 19, 2012

SALISBURY – New tests from the future site of the Rowan-Salisbury Schools central office reveal three buried fuel tanks and some contaminated soil, the city announced Friday.
According to a report issued Thursday by ESP Associates, P.A., soil samples taken on Oct. 8 and 9 showed petroleum contamination from the 1950s or 1960s, when a gas station was at the site.
But it’s not likely to keep the central office project from moving forward, said Salisbury Planning Services Director Joe Morris.
“It’s a very small area on the site, and it would be considered a routine part of the construction process on an urban site to perform this level of cleanup,” he said. “The thing we’re waiting for now is some cost estimates for the cleanup, and then we will proceed based on information we hope to have in the next few days.”
Morris said the city will work with the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to correct the problem. He said the city owns the property, so the school system should not have to cover any of the costs.
But Salisbury officials also will address with DENR exactly how responsible the city is for the cleanup.
The state agency filed a letter of no further action on the site in 1991, indicating that it had cleared the property after seven storage tanks were removed.
“The City of Salisbury, in good faith, considered the letter of no further action, in addition to conversations with DENR regarding the letter, as factual evidence that abatement at the site was complete,” Morris said in a city press release sent Friday.
If the actions required will affect the timing of construction, he said the city will offer a property at the other end of the block, which is the current site of the farmer’s market.
“The point is that the city is fully committed to project, and we do not want to delay them,” Morris said. “We just want everyone to be aware that there is an alternative, but quite frankly, it would take a pretty significant change in the information we have at hand to move us in that direction.”
Gene Miller, assistant superintendent for Rowan-Salisbury Schools, said the school system has established “from day one” of its agreement with Salisbury that the city would provide a clean site for construction.
He said the alternate site is an option, “but I see no reason to push for that, because that would involve rengineering for the foundation.”
Cleaning up the original site shouldn’t change the central office timetable, Miller said. The project has to be rebid anyway, because the first round of bids came in significantly higher than the $6 million budget.gggIn September, architect Bill Burgin said assessments of the soil, building and site history showed no evidence of hazardous material.
But he said the first-level environmental study suggested that fuel tanks could still be buried underneath one of the two former service stations there.
Burgin’s firm, Ramsay, Burgin and Smith Architects, decided to request a second-level environmental study. Sure enough, three undocumented tanks, 6,000 to 8,000 gallons each in size, were found side by side along the South Main Street edge of the property.
“The good news is that the tanks were not leaking,” Burgin said Friday. “The bad news is that where the pumps used to be, they found some leakage around some pump islands. … To me, it’s not a lot.”
Out of 10 soil sites tested, four had high levels of petroleum hydrocarbons, which are found in gasoline and diesel fuel. Three of them were collected near the former pumps and their associated underground pipes.
The report says the other contaminated sample, taken near an underground oil and water separator, also had elevated levels of the heavy metal chromium.
It’s not clear how much soil is polluted, but six samples collected throughout the site were safely below state limits.
Even if they’re clean, the three fuel tanks will have to come out before a building can be constructed, Burgin said. ESP Associates also recommends excavating and removing the oil and water separator, along with any contaminated dirt.
“I think this will clean up quickly,” Burgin said. “We’re talking just a couple days, and the tanks will be out and be gone.”
That kind of work normally would happen during construction, he said. The existing building and pump islands are set for demolition, which would open up easy access to the tanks.
But if the schools want it cleaned up ahead of time, Burgin said he can help the city find the best way to do that.
He said he hopes to get some estimates of the cleanup costs next week. During a recent project, Burgin said it cost about $8,000 to take out one 6,000-gallon tank and one 800-gallon tank.
Dirt typically costs about $25 per cubic yard to remove, he said, but he’s not sure what the rate would be for polluted soil.
Some soil removal was planned anyway as part of the construction process, to make sure grades are aligned properly, Burgin said. It’s possible that this work could be done during the cleanup, offsetting some of those costs, he said.
Morris said the next step after finding an estimate is to get the input of Salisbury City Council. The council’s next regular meeting isn’t until the first week of November, but Morris said that soon “there will definitely be some communication with the council about the future of the site.”
Contact reporter Karissa Minn at 704-797-4222.