Iowa Faces Tank Cleanup Deadline


Iowa regulators and gas station operators are working together despite disagreements to solve remaining issues surrounding a clean up effort for leaky underground tanks before funding ends in 2016, the Sioux City Journal reported.


The federally mandated effort started 20 years ago has been one of Iowa’s most successful environmental programs, according to all involved.


Currently about 1,400 sites, which includes some 750 considered high risks, still need to be cleaned-up or monitored and could be the most challenging and expensive yet. The sites need to be cleaned up to protect people, water supplies and soil from contamination caused by petroleum tanks, primarily at gas stations, commercial sites and some school properties, while providing closure to property owners who have repaired, replaced, removed or taken other action to address faulty underground storage containers.


“The things we’re concerned with are public health and environmental risk,” said Elaine Douskey, who supervises the DNR’s underground storage tank program.


“I’m optimistic that we’re going to come up with some strategies that will get significant numbers of those sites moved more quickly,” said Tim Hall, bureau chief for the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) geological and water survey bureau who is spearheading a collaborative effort. “The devil’s always in the details.”


Currently, a one-cent-per-gallon state gas tax is going to help pay for the prevention, monitoring and clean-up effort which ends June 2016. DNR officials, tank owners and petroleum marketers, groundwater professionals and the Underground Storage Tank (UST) Board and its administrative staff are working to reduce the remaining contaminated sites while adequate resources exist to deal with the backlog.


So far about $250 million has been spent for testing and remediation of thousands of contaminated sites, may of which were detected before Oct. 26, 1990, Scott Scheidel, Iowa’s underground storage tank fund administrator told the Sioux City Journal.


A 1988 federal law imposed technical and financial responsibility upon owners and operators of underground storage tanks. But, private insurance was not available at that time, so Iowa created a 1989 act that began a fund and oversight board to help owners and operators who have to comply with EPA standards.


Leaks detected before the October 1990 were eligible for help from the state fund, which was assisted by the penny tax. Lawmakers required that underground tank owners carry liability insurance, to upgrade or equip their new and existing tanks with leak-guard systems and to report tank failures. While the initial scope of the problem was larger than expected, it did result in the modernization of Iowa’s fuel-delivery system. But at the same time, new rules drove a number of small, independent service station owners and operators out of business in the face of increased financial and regulatory requirements.


Jeff Hove, vice president of the Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Stores of Iowa, said the program has been effective in addressing an environmental concern, but the time has come to end some ongoing monitoring and over-regulation of sites that are low risk or not in need of further action to provide some certainty to the industry.


He said he was hopeful but less optimistic that the new look at stalemated issues that were surrounded by mistrust and long-term disagreements would dramatically reduce the backlog of unresolved cases without some type of legislative impetus for change.


Hove told the Sioux City Journal he is opposed to recommendation made by a consultant hired by Gov. Chet Culver to find efficiencies in state government that called for eliminating the UST board and administrator and redirecting money so DNR officials would administer the program in the future. The move was projected to save the state $4 million over five years.




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