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Posts Tagged ‘remediation’

In the California environmental consulting business, there’s been a bit of dismay for the past month over a letter sent by the State Water Resources Control Board to various participants in the Underground Storage Tank Cleanup Fund.

The Underground Storage Tank Cleanup Fund Program was created in 1989 to help owners and operators of petroleum underground storage tanks (USTs) meet federal and state financial responsibility requirements. As some friends of mine sometimes remember, the changes in regulations regarding the pollution created by USTs, especially at fuelling stations, often became a difficult burden for small owners. They suddenly had to meet environmental standards they were not ready for; excavating old tanks and the contaminated soil around them was expensive.

The program was created to help the owners and operators of leaky USTs clean up their sites. Claims are prioritized in four categories:

  • The highest priority, Class A, is reserved for residential tank owners
  • Class B is reserved for small California businesses, nonprofit organizations and governmental agencies with gross receipts below a specified maximum
  • Class C is for certain California businesses, nonprofit organizations and governmental agencies not meeting the criteria for Class B
  • Class D is for all other eligible claimants

Here’s the kerfluffle: a few weeks ago, the Board notified participants that it was short on cash and payments would be delayed several months. The primary reason cited was poor revenue; you see, the Fund is financed by a per-gallon fee paid by the UST owners who are required to have a permit — but not as a percentage: as a flat amount per gallon sold. With the record highs on gasoline prices this summer, people drove less and the revenue, ahem, tanked.

So first, payments for already authorized and completed work are on hold for who knows how long. Then the Board announces that Class C agreements are suspended altogether. (Class D is not even on the horizon right now.) But to top it off, the Board tells Class B and C claimants:

“Have your consultant prepare a line item budget covering planned corrective action activities for your site for the 18-month period January 1, 2009 to June 30, 2010.”

Notice a problem with this? (1) “We’re holding your payments and we’ll pay out by priority.” (2) “Ask your consultant, which you now can’t pay, to do more work!”

But wait, there’s more! The budgets have to be submitted no later than February 1, 2009. And with the Holidays in the middle, you can bet all consultants are delighted to create a bunch of unscheduled budgets from whole cloth, for which they will have a hard time getting paid by their clients left hanging in the breeze.

On the one hand, the Board does need those budgets in order to plan and prioritize. On the other, the suddenness of the changes is really hitting a lot of clients hard, and the getting-paid-for-work issue is non-negligible. Fun times!

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marina-centerAs noted in today’s Humboldt Herald, the Draft Environmental Impact Report for the proposed Marina Center commercial development is now available on the City of Eureka’s Website. Quoted from the official project description:

The project applicant, CUE VI, LLC proposes a mixed-use development that would include approximately 313,500 sq. ft. of Retail/Service/Furniture including 28,000 sq. ft. of Nurseries/Garden; 104,000 sq. ft. of Office; 72,000 sq. ft. of Multi-Family Residential (54 dwelling units); 70,000 sq. ft. of Light Industrial use; 14,000 sq. ft. of Restaurant; and 12,500 sq. ft. Museum. The new buildings would be between one and five-stories. The project would include approximately 1,590 parking spaces, including about 462 spaces in a four-level parking structure.

This is a project I will be interested in. I have had no involvement in it, close or distant, but my company does provide some engineering services on the site remediation part, since the site is a “brownfield“, an abandoned industrial site with some moderate contamination that can be cleaned up and redeveloped. The site is generally referred to as the “Balloon Tract” because of the shape of a former rail loop on it that looks like a balloon.

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Copyright 2006 Sophie Lagacé

Copyright 2006 Sophie Lagacé

I dropped by my new office last week to say hello and ask about what projects I’ll start on when I begin next week. Interestingly for me, it looks like my last nine years of experience working with 25 Native tribes or tribal organizations will serve me well: the company is working on the permitting and design of a remediation project that involves, among other stakeholders, a tribe. And everyone told me: “We could really have used you this summer!” as they are just wrapping up the permitting phase and found it convoluted and frustrating.

Tribal work rarely registers on environmental engineers, scientists, and planners’ radar screen. Consultants tend to think of tribes as a small local government like a county or city, and treat their projects as “business as usual.” In addition, funding is often a challenge for tribes, so the long wait between phases and funding cycles can be discouraging. In truth, most consultants are woefully unprepared to work with tribes, and consequently provide them with unsatisfactory service.

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