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Cost of gas plant cleanup looming

This is the site of possible ground contamination on Front Street near where a former manufactured gas plant once operated. Cleanup could cost as much as $10 million.

This is the site of possible ground contamination on Front Street near where a former manufactured gas plant once operated. Cleanup could cost as much as $10 million.

ALBANY, Ga. — There's no disagreement among city of Albany or Albany Water, Gas & Light Commission officials on the problem that lies ahead.

It's the solution to that problem that's the point of contention.

A manufactured gas plant, built on land at 900 Front St. in 1912 and used to produce energy for electricity and heat until operations ceased in 1948, has been officially declared a hazardous waste site by the state's Environmental Protection Division. So the site must be cleaned to EPD standards.

The cleanup is expected to carry a price tag between $3 million and $9 million. Albany and WG&L officials are trying to determine where that money will come from. Some city leaders say WG&L, whose officials have known about EPD concerns since the survey "A Preliminary Investigation of the Hydrogeology and Contamination in the Area of an Abandoned Manufactured Gas Plant in Albany, Georgia" was completed, should have been budgeting funds to pay for the cleanup.

WG&L officials say the plant is located on land deeded to the city in 1885, was actually operated by city employees and is an expense that, at worst, should come from both the city's and the utility's budgets.

The (multi)million-dollar question is how much should each entity pay?

"According to a letter we got from WG&L in February, it will cost from $5 million to $10 million to clean up that site," City Manager James Taylor said. "What we have to do is come together and find a way to pay this money. It's gotten the EPD's attention; it's got to be done.

"The city is now aware of the issue. We don't have the money in our budget to pay for it, and neither does WG&L. So we're working with them to determine where the money will come from."

PAYING FOR IT

The utility's general manager, Lemuel Edwards, said he's working under a premise that a 50-50 split is the most equitable means to address the payment issue.

"We're putting our heads together now to work this out," he said. "WG&L did not operate this plant until an employee that was paid jointly by this department and the city was put in place, so we certainly plan to honor our part in this. But it's a city problem as well as ours."

The investigative survey, completed by M.J. Chapman, B.M. Gallaher and D.A. Early of the U.S. Geological Survey in 1990 for the U.S. Department of the Interior, spells out concerns surrounding the 12-acre site. The report notes that byproducts and waste generated at the manufactured gas plant, including tar and oil residues, spent oxides and ash, were disposed of onsite.

With the introduction of natural gas pipelines, the manufactured gas plants — which utilized coal and oil to generate heat and electricity — were phased out as energy producers. The Albany plant ceased operation and was abandoned in 1948 but was not fully decommissioned until 1961. EPA-ordered testing at the site turned up large levels of carcinogenic materials and other priority pollutants.

An investigation initiated by the USGS in January of 1989, which included 33 borings at depths ranging from 1.5 to 30.5 feet, detected high concentrations of cyanide in sediment and groundwater samples collected in the vicinity of the plant's holding tanks. Also discovered were high concentrations of naphthalene, ethylbenzine, benzine and toluene. Several other contaminants were also detected but at lesser levels.

WG&L worked with USGS officials to commission test and monitoring wells at the site in 1990, 1991 and 1992, and Assistant General Manager for Operations Keith Goodin contracted with an Atlanta-based engineering firm with experience in such site cleanups to compile a compliance status report for EPA.

That work, which was finally accepted by the state Environmental Protection Agency after months of work and pages of revisions, cleared the way for actual clean-up at the site. Exploratory digging was supposed to have started by September of this year, but Goodin sought and received an extension so that funding for the cleanup could be secured.

MARCH DIGGING PLANNED

The EPA ruled late last month that digging at the site must start by March 1, 2013. Cost of that process is expected to run $750,000.

"Our plan is to dig a 50-foot by 50-foot hole 9 feet deep at the site of one storage tank, and a 75-foot by 50-foot hole 12 feet deep at another," Goodin said. "Since we're digging the dirt, we plan to go ahead and clear it from the site. It will be taken to the Dougherty County Landfill, which is approved to dispose of the contaminated dirt."

Test results from the dig will determine eventual cleanup cost as the city and WG&L start their Corrective Action Plan.

"We hope the contaminants have not made their way into the (nearby) Flint River or contaminated the groundwater on the site," Taylor said. "If it has, we could be testing and tracking for years and years to come."

WG&L Deputy Director of Engineering Lee Daniel said there's reason to be optimistic that contamination from the site has been contained.

"Based on testing from soil borings and the wells, engineers who've worked on the project have offered an opinion that the contamination has been contained on the site," Daniel said. "We're hoping that's the case."

Added Goodin: "We're cautiously optimistic."

Albany City Commissioner Bob Langstaff has openly questioned WG&L officials about the utility's investigation into the hazardous site and its reluctance to share information with the City Commission. He said the situation surrounding the manufactured gas site shows the city manager should have ultimate oversight of WG&L, which functions as a city department.

"WG&L was never designed to operate in a vacuum with minimal oversight," Langstaff wrote in an email to The Herald. "In the 1950s, WG&L didn't buy a truck without the blessing of the City Commission. By the late 1960s, the WG&L management team began to insulate WG&L from oversight by the commission. There were some legitimate reasons for doing that, but there were also some very, very illegitimate reasons.

"The whole city is now paying for those sins of the past. The pendulum of isolation has swung so far that even the WG&L Board is largely isolated from actions taken by WG&L management. That is not how WG&L was intended to operate, and it is not good government."

UTILITY OVERSIGHT PUSHED

Langstaff said WG&L management's decision to work out an insurance settlement without the city's or the utility board's input is reason enough to call for more city oversight of the utility's activities.

"The manufactured gas plant cleanup is just one more shining example of why the city manager needs to have ultimate oversight over WG&L's management team," Langstaff wrote. "The WG&L Board should continue to be involved in day-to-day affairs and rate-setting, but the city manager needs to be responsible for making sure that the WG&L Board and/or the City Commission are appropriately informed and involved in policy-level decisions."

Taylor said he believes WG&L officials underestimated the significance of the hazardous site and kept information in-house until it got to be "much bigger than they could handle." But he said the significance of the cleanup shows that better communication between the utility and the city government is needed.

"There ought to be a control in place so that we know (about possible problems) as quickly as any city department knows," the city manager said.

Goodin acknowledges that WG&L handled the cleanup issue in-house as long as it was feasible, but now it's a problem that will require funding from both entities.

"I think the idea (at WG&L) has always been that if there were significant costs involved with the cleanup, the MEAG (Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia) money could be used to pay for it," he said. "There was no real need, no one believed, to budget funding (for a cleanup).

"But the city is controlling two-thirds of that money — which is money paid by ratepayers — so we're now in a position where we must work together to pay for the cleanup."

Comments

BettyBowTie 2 years ago

3-9 million, 5-10 million, a lot of big numbers here. Why such a large gap in the minimum and the maximum amounts? OK, so the State makes us dig up all the tar etc.from here and then we dump it where? It has to go somewhere. Is the tar, oil and ash somehow less dangerous when moved to another location? Not sure if oxides occur naturally or not but all the others do. I know these are bad chemicals but I am just not getting the urgency on this.Is this really a huge looming danger? It has been there 100 years already. How hurt are the citizens here by this site already, if at all? Will someone please ask the EPD and our leaders these questions?

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BettyBowTie 2 years ago

BTW, that is one huge hole they are talking about digging. Is that necessary?

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RedEric 2 years ago

The petroleum byproducts can be easily and quickly removed by feeding bacteria. I don't know about the cyanide or how that resulted from the process. That could be a real problem, but at $10million there will be a lot of Mercedes being bought locally.

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chinaberry25 2 years ago

They always inflate these costs. Yes, and RedEric is most likely right.

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Amazed2 2 years ago

FYI this is what happens when we let Government grow too.much and I am not talking local. The Federal and State EPA and EPD people are inner woven. The State EPD answers to the Federal EPA. All are a bunch of Tree Hugger types that live in a vacuum. Unfortunately it sounds like this old plant cleanup.issue investigation has been going on for 2 to 3 decades. Unfortunately the process moves slow especially when most large companies and cities use delay delay responses. Over time cleanup guidelines change. Cist change. A range of $3 to 9 million is a wide range. Cost is based on tonnage. I would think the consultants have a worst case quantity estimate? A lot of cleanup people charge premiun $$$ rates due to rwgulatiins and liabilities and health safety plans. All this says is get ready tax payers. It ii coming.

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Jimboob 2 years ago

You are so right... If we didn't have an EPA then we could have forgot all about this mess. Who knows. In another 20 or 30 years, when the ground water is all poisoned, we won't be here anyway.

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ustaknow 2 years ago

In another 30 years and with the way you liberals waste money - we can not afford to live here.

But just maybe you know more than us and can call your friend Mr Obama up and get him to come to little old Albany and build us another Solar Plant on this old site, Afterall he spent 535 million Solyndra dollars and zero jobs now. So a measly 10 million here would be no PROB

for your info: 535 Million SOlyndra dollars would have hired 7,039 teachers for one year and paid them 76k each.

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Amazed2 2 years ago

Hopefully the Dougherty County Landfill with the help of Jack Stone and other Commissioners can be flexible with Tipping Rates so some if these Millions$$$ in Tipping Fees stay in County. Due to high local Tipping Rates of $32 to $36 a ton?? The cleanup contractor for the Radiator Shop cleanup in Broad Ave. Found it cheaper to truck all that SPLOST $$ funded contaiminated soil to Thomas County for $16 to $18 ton. Thats crazy for local to be so Non Competitive. We basically gave Thomas County several Hundred Thousand Dollars of Lical Splost Funds. Wgere were our leaders on this??

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Amazed2 2 years ago

Thomas County runs their Lanfill like a business. With some volume you can always operate cheaper. So has Taylor and Lowndes Counties figured this out. Dougherty just says we aint gi no business we need to raise rates!! Dah you bunch of dumb bunnies all the local stuff gets loaded on trucks daily and goes out of county. You need to lower rates not raise!!!!

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WeAreThey 2 years ago

Thank you, Mr. Goodin, for reminding everyone that the MEAG funds belong to the ratepayers. The money was to be used to offset future rate increases but WG&L is passing on a rate increase to ratepayers anyway. Is it ratepayers' money only when someone other than WG&L misappropriates or squanders it?

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ustaknow 2 years ago

My question is. " What if we just do nothing ? "

This sounds odd as a first thought i know but what if? We pay a fine of how much?
The EPA sometimes forces municipalities and others with clean up cost that the land alone would have cleaned up naturally over time.

I have lived here for decades and I know of no incident where anyone got sick because if this supposed contamination.

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ga_peach992001 2 years ago

There are many Water, Gas and Light employees that have either passed away from cancer or have beaten the disease. Is there a connection, no one knows for sure but it is certainly something to consider! The EPA may want to investigate the higher than normal cancer rate among the employees.

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ustaknow 2 years ago

A woman from Los Angeles who was a tree hugging, liberal Democrat and an anti-hunter purchased a piece of timberland near Colville , WA . There was a large tree on one of the highest points in the tract. She wanted a good view of the natural splendor of her land so she started to climb the big tree. As she neared the top she encountered a spotted owl that attacked her. In her haste to escape, the woman slid down the tree to the ground and got many splinters in her crotch. In considerable pain, she hurried to a local ER to see a doctor. She told him she was an environmentalist, a Democrat, and an anti-hunter and how she came to get all the splinters.

The doctor listened to her story with great patience and then told her to go wait in the examining room and he would see if he could help her. She sat and waited three hours before the doctor reappeared. The angry woman demanded, "What took you so long?" He smiled and then told her, "Well, I had to get permits from the Environmental Protection Agency, the Forest Service, and the Bureau of Land Management before I could remove old-growth timber from a 'recreational area' so close to a waste treatment facility. I'm sorry, but due to Obama-Care they turned you down.

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Amazed2 2 years ago

Jimboob if Obama had not given $535,000,000 Million to his Solar Buddy who took the money and shut down the Solar business then with just this one deal gone bad or planned to go bad thru redistribution plan by Obama then even at $9 million dollar clean up cost the Feds could write a check to clean up 54 sites like the WGL site. If you wanr them all cleaned up dial 1800 Obama Solar.

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Amazed2 2 years ago

These days if you were to spill 5 gallons of kerosene or heating oil on the ground it will require a 10 year study to develop the impact on plants, wildlife and humans. Then another 10 years to do a test dig and develop the actual cleanup plan. Then write a work plan and go out for bids. Been better off if we just Freeze to Death. Apparently no permit or plan required fo that by EPA. Guess when we thaw out we might fall under the Health Department.

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chinaberry25 2 years ago

Amazed, the way folks in this town worship Obama, you would think that he would send the money for the cleanup. Oh! he only wants their votes and to h.. with helping out. He would not be caught dead anywhere in Albany, GA

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DavidWh 2 years ago

Having cleaned up several of these sites in GA and elsewhere, I can speak to a few of the questions listed...

The soil removed would go to a "lined" landfill, and yes, it is more secure there then where it currently is.

The "huge hole" is because these facilities had underground "gas holders" that were usually made of concrete or brick. They are basically big underground tanks. The size listed in the article is pretty common to these sites. The scope would typically be to remove the gas holder, and any contents, along with any visibly impacted soil around it.

As far as treating the soil with bacteria, that approach works primarily with "trace" amounts of contaminants, not heavy concentrations of tar, as would be encountered here. That may well be a way to address any residual contamination after the "source" of contamination is removed.

The big swing in costs is typically either attributed to the difference between a "worst case" and "best case" scenario. The worst case usually involved groundwater cleanup, which takes a long time and is expensive.

Hope that helps.

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