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Central office can proceed despite contamination, assessment says

SALISBURY — An assessment of the proposed school central office site says development can proceed despite groundwater contamination.
Two groundwater monitoring wells were installed on the property, a former gas station in the 300 block of South Main Street owned by the city of Salisbury. The city and Rowan-Salisbury School System plan to build an $8 million central office for school administration staff.
Samples from each well were submitted for laboratory analyses, according to Alan Griffith, a licensed geologist who conducted environmental testing on behalf of the city.
Griffith submitted his 79-page report — called a Limited Site Assessment — to the state on Tuesday.
The lab results show groundwater concentrations of two contaminants — benzene and methyl tertiary-butylether, or MTBE — above state levels, according to the assessment.
Griffith recommended periodic groundwater pumping to reduce the levels to below the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources gross contaminant levels.
“The pumping will not interfere with the development of the site as a central school office,” Griffith wrote to Dan Graham, the state’s project manager for the cleanup. “Future development of the site can proceed now.”
City officials and a spokeswoman for the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources could not be immediately reached for comment.
The state will reimburse the city for costs associated with periodic pumping. After Salisbury pays a $20,000 deductible, the state will cover the entire cost of the cleanup.
The city is not considered the responsible party for the cleanup. The city bought the former service station in 2007 after the state had given the site a clean bill of health in 1991, then reaffirmed the finding in 2007 before the purchase.
When work began on the central office site, the city discovered seven orphan underground storage tanks and massive soil contamination.
The cost of the cleanup, originally estimated at $35,000, could top $500,000.
Rowan County commissioners, who had originally agreed to borrow $6.2 million on behalf of the school system for a new central office, balked at the downtown location, citing the environmental contamination.
City Council in February agreed to consider borrowing $8 million on behalf of the schools, the full cost of a larger facility that would accommodate all administrators. Council has not yet voted to move forward with the project, which would require the blessing of the state’s Local Government Commission.
Read more in Thursday’s Post.

Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.

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