Underground oil tanks to cost county $2 million

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | The Suffolk County jail in Riverside.

Suffolk County has agreed to pay $2 million in a settlement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency after the regulatory agency alleged that the county violated federal laws, failing to maintain nearly 70 underground tanks, including seven tanks on county land from Wading River to Southold.

According to a federal complaint, the county failed to provide adequate maintenance and monitoring of at least 68 underground storage tanks at 35 facilities across the county. Locally, the locations include three tanks at the County Department of Public Works highway maintenance yard in Southold, two tanks at Indian Island Park on Riverside Drive, one at the Shoreham power plant on North Country Road in Wading River, and one tank at the Suffolk County Jail on Center Drive in Riverside.

The storage tanks contain gasoline or waste oil “in generally large quantities” that could cause serious environmental damage if allowed to leak, according to the federal complaint. However the violations do not pose any immediate threat to the drinking water of county residents, officials said.

The alleged insufficiencies are in violation of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, which oversees management of non-hazardous solid wastes.

Each of the facilities operates within the boundaries of the sole source aquifer, which supplies at least half of the drinking water consumed in the area, according to a release from U.S. Attorney Loretta E. Lynch.

“Suffolk County’s residents are entitled to full protection of the laws and regulations designed to protect our water, our environment, and our citizens from risk of contamination from gasoline,” Ms. Lynch said.

The county has agreed to pay a $500,000 penalty to federal government, as well as fund a Supplemental Environmental Project in the amount of $1,500,000 which will be used “to acquire an interest in land, and to manage such land and any associated ecological resources, into perpetuity, to protect or enhance groundwater,” according to the settlement.

The county is also responsible for all costs in bringing facilities up to full compliance with federal requirements.

So far, Suffolk has spent about $2.9 million in measures to achieve compliance, including the replacement and upgrade of automated release detection systems, removal and closure of obsolete tanks, upgrade and renovation of fueling stations, adding inventory control equipment at fueling sites, conducting training and inspections, and also the cleanup and restoration of a fuel spill at one of Suffolk’s facilities.

The location of that facility was not immediately available.

The county is expected to spend an additional estimated $1.1 million to remain in compliance in the future, and is responsible for to submitting regular reports to the EPA demonstrating compliance, according to the release.

“Suffolk’s commitment to maintain compliance with those laws and to fund the acquisition of an interest in land that will be perpetually managed to protect and enhance groundwater provides a significant benefit to Suffolk’s residents,” Ms. Lynch said.

EPA administrator Judith A. Enck said, “as a result of this settlement, the health of people living in communities throughout Suffolk County will be better protected from the threat of petroleum contamination to ground water,”

The proposed settlement will be published in the Federal Register for a 30-day public comment period, and must be approved by the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York before it takes effect.

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