On July 22, 2010, the City of DeKalb received a No Further Remediation (NFR) Letter from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency for the property it owns at First and Locust streets (AKA “skating rink site”).

[A]n NFR Letter signifies that compliance with all applicable regulatory requirements has been achieved, all corrective action (if any) has been completed, and no further corrective action is necessary for the protection of human health, safety and the environment.

Timeline

2007: City of DeKalb purchases property on SE corner of First & Locust, initiates preliminary testing

2008: City awards contract for the removal of underground storage tanks (USTs); USTs become reclassified as LUSTs

2009: Site investigation, reports and remediation

2010: Reporting & remediation completed, NFR awarded

From UST to LUST

The storage tank removal included two 1,000-gallon gasoline tanks, one 500-gallon heating tank and a hoist. A 2,000-gallon gasoline tank (click on the first thumbnail below; it’s marked Tank 1 on the site plans) was left in place because of its placement under concrete and asphalt, where future construction/excavation activities were not anticipated (except for the big hole right next to it now, for what I presume is the utility line burial project?).

The heating oil tank was removed without incident, but the old gasoline tanks were problematic in that they became a LUST case during the process: a Leaking Underground Storage Tank incident. LUSTs have to be reported immediately to the Illinois Emergency Management Agency (IEMA), at which time they are assigned case numbers and tracked. It’s the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA), however, that directly oversees the investigation and corrective action.

My Involvement

The purchase of this property interested me as a member of the Citizens Environmental Commission and a critic of some of the downtown TIF spending, but most especially as an advocate of open government. There were unanswered questions, such as why the city spent so much on a property that undoubtedly had environmental issues due to previous uses (e.g., gas station, dry cleaner).

Indeed, it was only when 2009 municipal candidates, including myself*, brought it up during our campaigns that the city saw fit to make any sort of status report on the site rehab project, which they did at the Committee of the Whole meeting on February 23. They justified the purchase price of $325,000 by arguing that the site was appraised at $361,000 and that savings were negotiated in order to recoup some of the remediation costs. They further asserted that local environmental testing company INDEVCON had found little need for worry that a major cleanup would be needed, and they laid out the anticipated costs to have Superior Environmental complete the required reports and remediation.

I’d read the INDEVCON report by then. Though I do not recall many details, I do remember it rated about 8 out of 10 on the Scale of Snore.

What was more interesting to me was that the contractor hired for the tank removal work put in a bid that was not only well below the others, but also below the city’s own engineering estimate. In addition, the city chose not to mention the LUST during the site rehab update — though it initially created a fire hazard via the release of petrochemicals such as xylenes, and poses an ongoing inhalation risk to construction workers.

Information, Please

An UST becoming a LUST triggers very specific requirements for site investigation and remediation. Among them are the 45-Day Report, a Site Investigation Completion Report (SICR), and a Corrective Action Completion Report (CACR). In this case, the 45-Day was completed in February 2009 and a combo SICR/CACR was done October 2009. Invoices from the company handling these activities, Superior Environmental, indicate IEPA requested further testing and reporting even after the SICR/CACR, and I have requested additional correspondence through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.

The reports indicate that neither groundwater nor free product was encountered during tank removal. Discovery of the LUST was described as follows:

Based upon visual and olfactory observations during removal activities, a gasoline release was reported Illinois Emergency Management Agency (IEMA) and was assigned incident number 20081327. No inventory of the USTs were available; therefore the amount released is not known.

There is an eyewitness account to part of the tank removal activities. A passing motorist who was stopped at the corner for a red light says that a lifted tank was tilted by workers and that a quantity of liquid came pouring out and into the hole. Was this part of the tank cleaning? The following is a description of the treatment.

Prior to removal the USTs were, emptied, purged and inerted [sic] to acceptable levels and removed. Upon removal the USTs were rendered unusable by cutting holes in them. Prior to transport from the site the USTs were cleaned. The rinsate was placed in 55-gallon drums and transported from the site on September 24, 2008.

The 45-Day Report requires photographs of the excavation and removal processes, which might help clear up the question of what poured out of the tank. Unfortunately, the camera used to record these activities malfunctioned, and no photographs are available.

The Money Quote

Big Muddy Services submitted a bid proposal for $13,675 but it contained the statement that “the Owner reserves the right to delete or add work items during the term of the contract.” Long story short, Big Muddy was paid $18,493 for the tank removal and disposal. In addition to the initial sampling and testing costs ($10,000? The memo is confusing) the Vendor Invoice List provided to me shows that SE received $40,440 from February 2009 through March 2010. I do not recall how much INDEVCON was paid, nor the building demolition costs; but it is probably safe to say that the total costs to purchase and prepare the site for development has surpassed the $400,000 mark.

******************************************

This post is as complete and accurate as I can make it for now — but I reserve the right to delete or add items (*wink*) in updates and/or new posts as additional information comes to me.

******************************************

Site Plan Sketches
First & Locust Site Remediation 1

First & Locust Site Remediation 2

Sources:

  • Invoices from Superior Environmental to City of DeKalb, May 2009 – March 2010
  • DeKalb County Property Tax & Assessment Search
  • City of DeKalb Council Meeting Agenda, February 23, 2009, PDF pp. 8-10
  • IEMA Leaking Underground Storage Tank Program 45-Day Report by Superior Environmental, February 2009
  • SICR/CACR by Superior Environmental Corp., October 2009
  • IEPA intro page to LUST (and TACO! Don’t you adore these acronyms?)
  • LUST Incident Tracking Page
  • *John Anderson (4th Ward) and Craig Roman (6th Ward) conducted aldermanic campaigns, while I ran for mayor. We brought up land acquisition and other TIF purchases as issues in our campaigns.