City of Athens to acquire abandoned property with possible groundwater contamination
By CG News Editor April Jaynes
Monday night, members of Athens City Council were divided evenly in a discussion about the city’s decision to purchase property of an abandoned gas station on Columbus Road. City Council President Jim Sands moved to pass the ordinance, authorizing the property acquisition.
The property, located at 83 Columbus Rd. within the city’s wellhead protection zone, could pose environmental and financial problems for the city if contamination from the abandoned gas tanks is found at the site.
In 2005, the city developed the Wellhead Protection Plan to protect areas susceptible to groundwater pollution.
Mayor Paul Wiehl said the city will remove the gas tanks, which could reveal groundwater contamination and result in cleanup efforts and expenses.
City auditor Kathy Hecht said removing the tanks will cost the city around $32,000 and additional testing for contamination could cost anywhere from $6,000 to $10,000. The city also plans to remove the building on the property, which would cost an additional $10,000.
“Somebody has to get the tanks out. We should step in rather than ignore it,” Wiehl said.
Wiehl also said that a Tier I study that cost the city around $15,000 was conducted in June around the property and did not detect contamination. A Tier I screening tests for 67 chemicals that the Environmental Protection Agency chooses to test for first based upon exposure potential, according to the agency’s website.
Council members were divided about the potential cleanup expenses the city may be faced with if contamination is detected.
“This has been a difficult situation for council members to look at,” at-large council member Chris Knisley said. “If something is found, we don’t know what fees we might face.”
Knisley also said the city would be responsible for quarterly monitoring of the site and cleanup fees would have to come from the general funds if contamination is found.
Wiehl said that acquiring extra money to help with cleanup efforts would be a “long shot.”
Knisley, who opposed the city’s purchase of the property, said that she would rather see the state acquire the property and the city of Athens work with the state and EPA if contamination is detected.
Other members disagreed on the basis of mistrust in state administration and a belief in the city’s ability to follow through with cleanup efforts.
Chris Fahl, Fourth Ward council member, said that the abandoned gas station would not be a priority of the state. “I don’t have a lot of trust in the state at this point,” she said.
Some members also felt that the abandoned property and potential contamination were responsibilities of the city.
Jeffrey Risner, Second Ward council member, said that the city is obligated to take care of the property because it is in the city’s domain. “This is our problem, and we should clean it up,” he said.
Fahl also addressed the importance of clean water for Athens residents.
“You can’t function as a city if you have tainted, or the potential for, tainted water,” she said.