Florida gas station owners are rushing to get their underground fuel storage tanks replaced with double-walled tanks by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Dec. 31 deadline in an effort to avoid fines or a court-ordered shutdown of their gas pumps, the Palm Beach Post reported.
Industry experts predict 5-18% of stations won’t be legally selling gas on Jan. 1. The state law, which took effect in 1990, is aimed at protecting the state’s groundwater supply from pollution.
If station owners have a binding contract and complete the upgrade by March 31, then the fines will not be enforced, noted Bill Burns, environmental administrator at the DEP.
Although station owners have had plenty of time to comply, those who waited until the last minute face a deadline in the midst of a tough economy where it’s hard to make a profit because of rising credit card fees, insurance, increased shoplifting and theft, and people buying fewer soft drinks. The economy also is making it hard to gain financing, and loans of $100,000 to $300,000 don’t make sense for marginal stations.
By early December, 84-85% of the state’s 8,814 gas stations had the work completed, the DEP’s Burns said. But that means 1,397 stations are not yet verified as upgraded.
“This is not as good as we hoped it would be,” Burns said. “We think a lot of it has to do with the economy. We thought we would have 90-95% compliance.”
Stations in violation will be in trouble on beginning Jan. 4, when the DEP will check on stations not known to have upgraded their tanks. The state could levy fines of up to $10,000 per violation, and ultimately a court could order a station to shut off its pumps.
“We will seek whatever means necessary to get them into compliance,” Burns said. If the work is not completed, under way or under contract by the deadline, tanks must be drained and the operator has two years to remove them.
Small operators in rural areas, where customers need them most, are most likely to close due to lack of funds.