Tuesday, February 20, 2024

DEQ demanding action on potential Wrightsville Beach water and soil contamination from nearly 30 years ago

In 1991 several underground storage tanks that were filled with fuel were removed and replaced with above-ground units. At the time of the removal, the state was concerned with a possible leak after detecting petroleum in the soil and water --- but no action was ever taken --- until now.

The site of the Wrightsville Beach Public Works has been a potentially hazardous site due to petroleum contamination since the early 90s (Port City Daily/File)
The site of the Wrightsville Beach Public Works has been a potentially hazardous site due to petroleum contamination since the early 90s (Port City Daily/File)

WRIGHTSVILLE BEACH — It’s been nearly 30 years since the Town of Wrightsville Beach decided to replace two 100-gallon fuel tanks near its Public Works facility.

During the removal process of the underground storage tanks, soil testing was required — the samples identified the presence of petroleum — but apparently, the town and the state disagreed on whether or not the tanks had leaked.

Since 1991, the town has failed to address the issue to the satisfaction of the state.

Earlier this month, during a Board of Aldermen meeting, the board was presented with two different options to remedy the situation.

The first would be to complete additional soil and groundwater testing to determine if it was below the state-required limits; the second would be to simply notify people of the issues with the land and set Perpetual Land Use Restrictions.

The town’s Board of Alderman did not make a decision yet, instead, according to Town Manager Tim Owens, they requested further information.

What does it mean?

The removal of an underground storage tank (Port City Daily/Courtesy Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources)
The removal of an underground storage tank. (Port City Daily/Courtesy Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources)

The first option is somewhat self-explanatory — send samples of the soil and possibly groundwater for further testing. If the results came back below the state maximums, it is likely no further action would be required.

The second option would be to set restrictions for the land in perpetuity as well as officially notify people of the contamination.

Instead of submitting samples of the soil and water in the vicinity to the state to see if the levels of contaminants were low enough to meet state requirements, the town instead would have to post a notice of residual petroleum for the property. This would, essentially, be an official statement notifying people of the possible contaminants.

It will also place land-use restrictions on the land, which for now, should not affect anything since the property is the site of the town’s Public Works facility.

“I don’t believe this document provides any problem as long as the Town proposes to keep the Public Works at its current location. Should another future Board decide to sell the site (site does have great development potential), the condition would be in place indefinitely or until studies are done to prove that contamination levels are under State levels,” Town Manager Tim Owens wrote to the Board in last week’s agenda.

It is also worth noting that the land was previously used as a landfill and sewer treatment facility.

After the notification, the land can no longer be used for anything other than industrial or commercial uses.

According to town documents, “Industrial/commercial use means a use where the exposure to soil contamination is limited in tome and does not involve exposure to children or other sensitive populations such as the elderly or sick. The real property shall not be developed or utilized for residential purposes …”

Why now?

The underground tanks and original facilities were installed in the 1950s and replaced with the above-ground tanks in 1991.

The state apparently has had an issue with the situation since then but in July of this year, the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) sent Owens and the town a letter requiring the town to register the site with the New Hanover County Register of Deeds as a residual petroleum site.

According to the letter, “This requirement applies prior to conveyance of a contaminated property or prior to receiving a ‘Notice of No Further Action’ when a release from an underground storage tank has not been remediated to below ‘unrestricted use standards.'”

It is not clear what exactly prompted the state to issue its letter to the town, but the DEQ is expecting someone fast action on the matter.

The property is located at 200 Parmele Blvd.

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