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State Fund to Clean Up Gas Stations Low

6 December 2008 No Comment

By Adelaide Chen

The chain link fence around the perimeter of a corner gas station is contributing to the blight in the International and East 12th Street Corridor, neighbors say.

But the owner is having a hard time maintaining and keeping up with equipment upgrades required by state law.

Rashid Ghafoor, the owner of Shore Acres Gas, said the business can’t compete as a mom-and-pop gas station.  He needs a new underground storage tank system costing $200,000 to $300,000 in order to operate as a brand name franchise, he said.

On top of that, he said he needs money to drill nine holes to conduct soil and water tests for contamination.  The results of the test were due Nov. 25 but he missed the deadline. The Alameda County Environmental Health opened a case two years ago to investigate for petroleum leaks on the property.

Ghafoor is waiting for approval by the state’s cleanup fund that they will cover assessment costs.

Mike Sgourakis of APEX Envirotech, Inc., a consulting agency hired by Ghafoor to conduct the assessment and remedial work, said his company was willing to carry the balance “for a while.”  But prior approval for the claim was necessary to move forward with the project.

The state water board, the agency that oversees the underground storage tank cleanup fund, issued a notice in October that it would suspend lower priority reimbursements due to low funds.   Over 600 large businesses are waiting to be reimbursed for repairs for claims they submitted as far back as 2000, according to a list on the website.

While Ghafoor, a member of the U.S. Air Force, was out of the country, APEX submitted a budget for approval to the cleanup fund, as a low-priority reimbursement.  Sgourakis said they didn’t have the receipt totals that verified Shore Acres’ status as a small business. In October, APEX reapplied, this time in a higher classification, as a priority reimbursement.

They are waiting to hear back.  But until then, plans are on hold. 

For each gallon of gas purchased, 1.4 cents is designated for a fund that reimburses businesses, mostly gas stations, to repair underground storage tanks.  But with less people buying gas, there is less money to work with, said David Clegem, spokesperson for the State Water Resources Control Board.

Californians are still not driving much, even with the dip in gas prices, he said.  As a result, revenue decreased from $241 million the previous fiscal year to an estimated $233 million this fiscal year.

“We have no crystal ball so we’re keeping our estimates low and paying out only the statutory requirements,” Clegem said.

Priority claims are being reimbursed consisting of small businesses and residences, he said.

For mom-and-pop gas stations, such as Shore Acres, which was built in the mid-50s, the clean-up fund provides finances they would otherwise not have, in order to compete in a market dominated by large franchises.

Chuck Headlee, the water board’s Bay Area regional manager for the underground storage tank initiative said, “We’ve closed and cleaned up probably a good 30,000 cases” since the mid 80’s.  Since regulation standards and detection devices for tanks have improved over the decades, he estimates there are still 10,000 cases remaining in the state.

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