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Truckee businessman faces water board fine

JOHN A. BAYLESS, Sierra Sun

Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board will consider a complaint and fine of $210,500 against Truckee business owner Edgar Stratton during its meeting on Oct. 13-14 in South Lake Tahoe.

The agency contends that Stratton, the owner of Dependable Tow, has ignored four cleanup and abatement orders since August 1997.

According to Lahontan staff, Stratton failed to meet deadlines in all of the orders and has made no effort to comply.

The orders stem from contamination which Lahontan alleges came from the previous business on the property, Associated Bulk Oil Terminal, owned by Ken Osburn.

The agency alleges that Stratton knew of the contamination on the property before his purchase of the land in 1987.

The $210,500 fine is for the 421 days of noncompliance Lahontan alleges have passed since it issued the order to Stratton. The amount increases by $500 per day, but could go as high as $5,000 per day, depending on the penalty decided by the Lahontan board.

However, Stratton says he knew nothing of the contamination when he bought the property or when he built his towing company’s garage there.

“Before we built there, we had to go get permits from Lahontan,” Stratton said. “None of this was ever mentioned.” Stratton’s towing service and storage has been located on the site since 1993.

“Your office states that prior to our purchasing this property there was a cleanup order which was never done,” Stratton wrote to Lahontan in March 1998. “Nevada County has no record of this, nor was there any notation on the title report. During the process of obtaining permits for this property we had contact with your office on quite a few occasions. Never was there any mention of possible contamination, or of a prior cleanup order to me. If there was a CAO your office should not have waited 10 years to notify somebody. Part of the soil you say is contaminated is fresh fill from Sha Neva that we put in when we installed our water and sewer lines.

Nevada County Environmental Health witnessed this and inspected the dirt that was excavated.”

Stratton said it was only in June 1999 that he received a copy of the cleanup and abatement order originally issued to Osburn in 1986. Lahontan ordered Osburn to refrain from violating the agency’s discharge prohibitions, to implement control measures to prevent further discharges, to test a storage tank and pipeline on the property, to identify soil and groundwater contamination and to submit a plan to clean up and abate the contamination. The order issued to Osburn specified a deadline of May 31, 1986.

The 1986 Lahontan order describes an above-ground fuel storage tank on what was then Osburn’s property, and says that fuel from the tank was leaking into the ground, where it was detected at a depth greater than one foot.

Stratton said his problems began with Lahontan following Chevron’s drilling of a test well on his property. The company monitors test wells around the downtown area because of historic gas plume contamination from a site on the north side of the railroad tracks.

“It started when Chevron drilled a test well,” Stratton said. “They said they found contamination in it, and immediately after that Lahontan started harassing us.”

He said the underground gas plume detected by Chevron likely does not originate on his property, because the test showed MTBE at detectable levels. That chemical, once touted as a savior of clean air and now maligned for its impact on groundwater, was not in use when Osburn had the property, Stratton said.

Scott Ferguson, acting supervisor and Assistant Water Resource Control Engineer for Lahontan, said the record makes it clear that Stratton knew something about the contamination.

He said disclosure laws would have required Stratton to be told about the contamination and the cleanup order prior to the purchase.

“Mr. Stratton purchased the site in 1987 and constructed a building in 1992,” Ferguson said. “According to Mr. Stratton, the top several feet of sediment at the site were excavated and hauled away before he purchased it. It is clear that he knew of the contamination.”

Ferguson said he did not know why no apparent action was taken by Lahontan on the property following the cleanup order in 1986, but said it appeared the agency’s interest was triggered again in 1997 by the test well drilled by Chevron as part of a commingled gas plume investigation. Chevron, Texaco and Union Pacific Railroad have been drilling test wells to determine the extent of a gas plume under Truckee, which possibly originated from a former gas station on Donner Pass Road.

“At that time, we became aware that there had been a fire on the site in the 1970s with an estimated 7,000 gallons of gas burned or released,” Ferguson said. Soil and water samples taken in late May of 1997 showed contamination.”

Lahontan’s complaint states that Stratton “is the landowner and was knowledgeable of the degree of discharge on the property prior to the transaction, and is … culpable to a high degree for the violations.”

Ferguson said Osburn has fulfilled his obligations in regard to cleanup, by signing on with the investigation of the commingled gas plume.

“Mr. Osburn has met his obligations,” Ferguson said. “Mr. Stratton has not met any of his obligations.”

Stratton’s shop is located next to the Bi-State Petroleum fuel center on West River Street, and across the street from the old Nevada County maintenance shed.

Stratton said he took steps during the construction of his shop to ensure that he did not cause pollution of the property. Any liquids which drip from wrecked cars in his storage area are collected into a holding tank.

“I don’t think there’s any way that anyone in their right mind would think we contaminate anything,” Stratton said. He said he plans to go to the Lahontan board meeting in two weeks, although he will have to shut down his business to attend.


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