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Poor fuel storage records may cost county $800,000

Erie County's failure to keep proper records of gasoline and diesel storage tanks on its property and to ensure several of the tanks weren't leaking could cost the county more than $800,000.

The county earlier this month paid a $275,000 fine for violating two federal environmental laws that regulate the way the county must maintain and monitor aboveground and underground oil storage tanks at its parks, public works facilities and other properties.

But county officials also expect to spend as much as $465,000 on additional work to make sure all of its tanks throughout the county meet federal environmental standards under the Clean Water Act and other laws.

The County Legislature on Thursday voted to extend a contract with the architectural and engineering firm Wendel Duchscherer to complete a second phase of a project to bring the county's fuel tanks into compliance.

Jeffery Zack, a senior project manager for the county's Department of Public Works, told legislators that the county has already completed most of the work to address problems cited in a consent decree issued by the U.S. Department of Justice in February.

Zack said the county has since surveyed all of its fuel and petroleum tanks to identify other potential violations of state and federal environmental laws for which the county has not yet been cited. The second phase of the work done by Wendel Duchscherer will address those issues.

"We want to move forward to correct those items before they do become an issue," Zack said.

The federal penalties lodged against the county stemmed from inspections done by the Environmental Protection Agency in 2008 of oil storage tanks on county-owned property.

The agency found several violations, including the failure to keep spill plans for some of the storage tanks and the inability to produce records that showed that certain required tests had been completed, according to the EPA's complaint.

"There weren't any actual leaks," said John Martin, an EPA spokesman. "But there were record-keeping violations, and there were some problems with regards to their release detection systems and also their corrosion inspection systems." He said the county has corrected the violations cited in the EPA consent decree.

The Legislature's vote Thursday authorized County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz to add as much as $392,000 to the county's contract with Wendel Duchscherer and to set aside $72,500 for reimburseable and contingency expenses for the project.

County officials in February allocated $50,000 for Wendel Duchscherer for the first phase of the project.

In other business Thursday, four county legislators pressed Poloncarz to take formal action to ensure that $7.5 million of county funds committed a year ago to build a new Erie Community College North Campus academic building remain designated for the project.

Legislator Joseph C. Lorigo, C-West Seneca, sought to bring a resolution to a vote that would urge the county executive to enter into a funding contract with the college. His effort failed, 4-6, to get enough support to bring the matter to a vote.

Timothy Callan, deputy budget director, said the Poloncarz administration is committed to redesignating the funds and will send an item to the Legislature for a vote in the next few weeks.