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Fuel oil contaminants found at Donner Trail school site

ABHUTCHISON, Sierra Sun

A heating oil spill that was discovered in 1987 on the Donner Trail School site has come back to haunt the school district – in the form of a cleanup that could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

A major cleanup project took place at the school in the summer of 1987 and 4,000 cubic yards of contaminated soil were hauled off site in 1996. However, according to Tahoe-Truckee Unified School District officials, recent test results from the monitoring wells on the site came back with surprisingly high concentrations of diesel close to the domestic water well and the Yuba River that runs behind the Kingvale school.

After the initial clean-up, some underground contamination remained at the site that was impossible to get to because it occurred in cracks in granite bedrock.

The Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board has mandated TTUSD perform work on an emergency basis designed to evaluate and remediate the problem.

“We will know in the spring of 2000 from monitoring well results whether or not it will be necessary to proceed with the remainder of the remediation project,” TTUSD Director of Facilities John Britto said in a letter to the Placer County Superintendent of Public Schools. “While this is certainly unwelcome news, it appears to be the only safe, practical course for the district to follow.”

Britto said the water board has recognized the financial impact of the project and has indicated they will give the project top priority in submitting for funding through the State Cleanup Fund.

Meanwhile, costs will be paid for from the deferred maintenance budget until reimbursements come. TTUSD staff are confident they will be reimbursed for most of the project.

The minimum cost is expected to be at least $90,000, but could be up to hundreds of thousands of dollars, depending on future well-monitoring results.

“We believe that all of the expenses that are occurring now from the project will be reimbursed,” said Britto.

At a special board meeting early Monday morning, the TTUSD board unanimously passed an emergency resolution to waive public bid requirements on the project. If the county superintendent approves the waiver, the district will be allowed to move forward quickly on the project.

According to the water board, sampling results show there has been significant migration of contamination toward the site’s drinking water well, making staff concerned about potential threat to the school’s drinking water.

The fuel spill originated sometime before 1987 from leaking pipe connectors between the fuel tank that was in the parking lot and the school’s boiler room.

When the district began the initial clean-up project, they found a 1,000-gallon fuel tank that had been abandoned years before. Britto said the abandoned tank may also have contributed to the contaminated soil.

The district is now required to monitor more wells in the area, as well as replace the wells that indicated high levels of fuel in case the readings were erroneous, Britto said.

“The important thing is that so far we haven’t seen any reason for this to affect the drinking water at the school,” Britto said. Students have been drinking bottled water in all instances since the emergency was first addressed earlier this month, and bottled water has been available at the the school for the past three years, he said.

“Right now the students are not at risk,” said Kathy Polucha of Nevada County Environmental Health. “We are taking a sample of the drinking water on a routine basis and have not come up with any bad samples.”

Polucha said the school is working diligently on the emergency. The district hopes that drilling work will begin sometime in December.

Donner Trail School, located on the summit in Kingvale, is an alternative education school with a kindergarten through fifth grade multi-age program. The school has a population of approximately 60 students.

The spill has cost the district a total of approximately $250,000 since 1987, but it has already been reimbursed for more than half of that by the State Cleanup Fund.


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