110 W. New York Ave.
DeLand, FL 32720
By Pat Andrews
posted Oct 31, 2012 - 1:09:06pm
Cleanup of gasoline contamination in DeLeon Springs has been progressing slowly, and has now hit another snag. Work to remove gasoline and perhaps old gas tanks buried under U.S. Highway 17, scheduled for this summer, in 2013, may be postponed as the result of a lawsuit.
Universal Solutions, the company that's been doing the cleanup, filed suit against the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP), seeking control of the cleanup under the highway.
"It's a dispute over who's going to do the work," Universal Solutions attorney Bob Fingar said.
Petroleum contamination at the Valero site at 5145 North U.S. Highway 17 was first ordered in June 1988, and the cleanup was deemed a high priority by the FDEP.
A plume of gasoline contamination migrated at least 400 feet westward, toward the springs, less than a mile away.
In the 1980s, the station was a Fina Express, owned by Acree Oil Company, and Walter M. Acree was identified as the responsible party. He designated Universal Solutions as the contractor to perform cleanup activities, as was specified under the rules, the complaint states.
The site has been sold a couple of times, and is now a Valero station.
Acree still has liability, and still has the right to determine who the contractor is, Fingar said.
The state is now paying for the cleanup under a state Early Detection Incentive, which granted amnesty to Acree and other owners of contaminated sites.
The state designated the Valero site as an imminent threat in 2008, endangering the springs, about a mile away, and nearby residents.
Universal Solutions performed the cleanup at the Valero station, completed in 2009, and at the Perez property across the street in August.
The company first submitted a proposal to FDEP for the cleanup work on and around U.S. Highway 17 in the vicinity of the Valero station, just south of Louise S. McInnis Elementary School, a few years ago, Fingar said.
Then, in October 2011, Universal Solutions submitted to FDEP a scope of work, traffic-management plan, and cost proposal for the Highway 17 cleanup.
"DEP has ignored it," Fingar said.
Instead, Universal Solutions learned, FDEP issued a request for statement of qualifications from other cleanup contractors to do the work, and this is outside the scope of FDEP's authority, the suit alleges.
While Universal Solutions is state-certified, but not a Department of Transportation-certified contractor, neither are the other contractors FDOT is considering, Fingar said. Any contractor hired to manage the project will have to use FDOT-qualified subcontractors, and, "Universal Solutions is perfectly amenable to that," Fingar said.
The company "has a clear legal right to enter into work orders with FDEP to perform the work," the complaint states, and Universal Solutions is asking a judge to order FDEP to cooperate.
FDEP attorney Chris McGuire has a different take on the issue. The department is not required to work with the contractor, he said.
While there is a policy guidance that says a property owner can designated a state-qualified contractor to supervise cleanup, there is not a rule or law that says the Department of Environmental Protection must work with a particular contractor.
"We often don't," McGuire said.
In this case, the contractor will work on a Department of Transportation-controlled road, and must be approved by that department.
So far, the Department of Transportation hasn't indicated which contractors it might approve.
"If we pick someone they don't like, DOT doesn't have to let them on-site," McGuire said.
Even if Universal Solutions doesn't prevail in the lawsuit, FDEP may still work with them, he said.
Fingar said he hopes the matter can be settled and the work done next summer, in 2013. There have already been several postponements.
"We realize there's a scheduling issue with the school, and we'll do it when it's most convenient for DOT as well," he said.
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