Underground storage tank sites part of N.C. brownfields program

by Michelle Saxton
Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Lumina News file photo 

Quint Ocock of OK Enterprises uses a backhoe to remove one of four gas tanks at Gas Center Incorporated No. 8 on April 16, 2009.

Prospective buyers of former gas station properties would have liability protection from remnant contamination they did not cause or contribute to under a proposed bill to allow underground storage tank sites to be considered for eligibility in the North Carolina Brownfields Program.

Old property owners still would be responsible for cleaning up the sites through remediation and monitoring, said the bill’s primary sponsor, Rep. Rick Catlin, R-New Hanover.

“It does not reduce the requirement of the responsible party to meet all the remediation standards,” Catlin said in a phone interview Monday, April 15.

The state Division of Waste Management-administered Brownfields Program website defines a brownfields site as “an abandoned, idled or underused property where the threat of environmental contamination has hindered its redevelopment.”

Underground storage tank sites currently are not eligible for brownfields agreements but are part of the state’s UST program, which focuses on remediation but does not include the kind of liability protection in the Brownfields Program, Catlin said. 

House Bill 789, which would take effect in July if approved, also clarifies that properties could still qualify for the Brownfields Program if substances had previously leaked from USTs. 

It also called on the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources to report to the Environmental Review Commission by April 1, 2014, on how the changes would affect the Brownfields Property Reuse program and Leaking Petroleum Underground Storage Tank Cleanup program.

The Brownfields Program looks at sites individually, including remediation and exposure concerns, and allows prospective developers to use those sites with certain land use restrictions, such as no children’s playgrounds or swimming lakes, for example, Catlin said.

“It’s a very thoughtful process, but it allows the reuse of properties where there’s already infrastructure,” Catlin said.

Wrightsville Beach has four current or former gas station sites that may be affected by the bill: 

Earlybird Food Mart and Gas Station on Wrightsville Avenue

Causeway Market/former BP Gas Center on Causeway Drive

Former Wrightsville Beach Food Mart/former Scotchman Store on Salisbury Street

Former Batson filling station in the 500 block of Causway Drive

“I’m not totally sure how the bill is written and what it includes and encompasses, but I would have to say the underground storage tanks here are no different than elsewhere,” Wrightsville Beach Public Works Director Mike Vukelich said April 15.

Site cleanup in 2009 at the former Gas Center Incorporated No. 8 on Causeway Drive included removing tanks from the ground and hauling away contaminated soil. 

New Hanover County has several brownfields sites that have been redeveloped or are being redeveloped, including the PPD Headquarters, Wilmington Convention Center, Almont Shipping Co. and Cape Fear Soccerplex, said Sam Watson, a Wilmington-based project manager for the state’s Brownfields Program.

“Under this bill, if it passes, if there is an old, abandoned gas station that someone wants to buy and turn into, say, a coffee shop, this will allow them a little stronger liability protection under a brownfields agreement than it would under the UST rules,” Watson said Friday, April 12. “A lot of these properties, there’s a hindrance. They either can’t sell it or a buyer can’t get financing because there’s contamination. So the brownfields agreement helps move that along either by getting the responsible party to move along a little closer with his remediation or setting a limit on what the developer has to spend to make it safe for the use that they intend it for.”

The responsible party still has to clean it up, and will do so under the authority of either the Inactive Hazardous Sites branch or the Underground Storage Tank branch section, Watson said.

“If anything it will help some of these old gas stations you see all over the place, people will be more interested in using them for something else,” Watson said. 

email michelle@luminanews.com

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