City, WG&L discuss gas plant cleanup options

Remnants of buildings left near where a manufactured gas plant once sat are the only reminders of the possible ground contamination around the area. City and WG&L officials are under an order from the EPD to start cleanup efforts at the site by Sept. 1.

Remnants of buildings left near where a manufactured gas plant once sat are the only reminders of the possible ground contamination around the area. City and WG&L officials are under an order from the EPD to start cleanup efforts at the site by Sept. 1.

ALBANY, Ga. — Albany City Commissioner Bob Langstaff chided officials with the city’s Water, Gas & Light Commission Tuesday morning for their failure to keep the commission abreast of action taken in the ongoing efforts to remain in compliance with Environmental Protection Division requirements for cleanup of an environmentally hazardous site.

Langstaff pointed to items in an executive summary completed by the Atlanta-based Mactec Engineering and Consulting firm related to a defunct manufactured gas plant at Society and Third avenues.

“What really bugs me is that the collective mind around this table did not have an opportunity to assist you,” Langstaff said. “And yet this executive summary mentions several times the ‘city’s funding capacity’ in relation to the cleanup. I don’t see anywhere where it says WG&L’s funding capacity.

“How can you present to EPD what the city’s funding capacity is when you haven’t approached this board or the city manager? And then the report says that there are ‘no plans by the city to develop the site,’ and yet I haven’t been asked about that. No one at WG&L needs to be making a representation to EPD about the city’s plans without discussing those plans with the city.”

WG&L Assistant General Manager for Operations Keith Goodin, who had given commissioners an overview of the timeline associated with the gas plant cleanup, said the utility had spent a little less than a half-million dollars “out of pocket” since 1989 and that it had gotten approval to start exploratory digging at the site in January rather than a previously set Sept. 1 deadline.

“We’ve completed revisions (EPD sought) to our corrective action plan, so we are in compliance still today,” Goodin said. “We’ll continue to do all the paperwork required and take samples at the site through the end of the year, and then we’ve targeted 3 acres of the 5-acre site where we’ll do the digging.

“We’re hoping that we’ll find things are not as bad (as some had said). We’ll know more after we do the preliminary digging, which will take around two months, and then it could be another five years before we’re through. It’s taken us since 2006 to get to the point where we’re ready to dig.”

Goodin said efforts to clean up the site, which extracted gas for energy from heated coal and oil, had begun in 1989. The plant was completed in 1912 and remained in operation until 1948. It was decommissioned in 1961. Environmental issues surround the sludge byproduct created when oil was poured on the superheated coal.

“There were no environmental concerns back then, and the byproduct was just dumped on the site,” Goodin said. “An EPD study identified a list of contaminants found at the site.”

Among the hazardous materials listed in the executive summary are benzine, toluene, ethylbenzene, xylene, isopropylbenzene and styrene.

Langstaff said his and other citizens’ primary concern had to do with possible contamination of the nearby Flint River.

“(According to the study), contamination has gotten into the groundwater,” he said. “And you have no way of really knowing how the contamination might have migrated. All you have to go on are the test wells you’ve dug. And I’m concerned about what might have seeped into the Flint River.”

Goodin said wells dug along the perimeter of the site showed no extensive migration of contaminants.

“We feel that we’ve located the perimeter of the contamination,” the WG&L executive said. “We’ve found where we believe the harmful material stops. I can say for certain that the contamination is not in the Floridan Aquifer, and that EPD will not let this site go without it being in compliance.”

Gooden said through research he’d been able to locate two “confidential insurance carriers” that had covered the site in the 1970s and early ‘80s. He told commissioners Scott Laseter, an attorney who specializes in insurance settlements, had helped WG&L reach “what we thought was a fair settlement” of $190,000 with one of the carriers. The other, he said, had paid $142,000 in “investigative costs” and would continue to pay 33 1/3 percent of costs through the investigative process.

“We feel — and our attorneys feel — that the exploratory digging is part of the investigative process,” Goodin said.

Commissioner Roger Marietta, noting that the joint city/WG&L Long-Term Planning Committee had previously recommended not using MEAG funds to pay for the cleanup, offered a “compromise” finance plan.

“Perhaps WG&L could borrow from the long-range trust fund and pay it back through insurance money collected or over a period of time,” Marietta said. “That way the ratepayers would not be affected directly, and we could get off the dime and get started.”

Commissioner Tommie Postell, who chairs the Long-Term Planning Committee, said the group is looking for ways to control such issues in the future.

“We all agree that (WG&L) will need help to get this cleaned up,” he said. “(The Long-Term Committee) did not say that the city wouldn’t help finance the $750,000 to clean this up; we said the committee would not. First we need some controls in place so that this kind of thing doesn’t happen again.”`