Special Report by Cheri Rae: Originally Posted on Thursday, September 2, 2010
In the demolition zone where St. Francis Hospital once stood, a leaking underground fuel tank was recently unearthed from below the original boiler room. The 2,000-gallon steel riveted tank, believed to date back to the 1920s, was discovered by workers on the site on August 6, according to reports filed with the County of Santa Barbara.
The hospital is being demolished (pictured below) to make way for a 115-unit condominium project developed by Cottage Hospital.
The tank was removed from the ground by demolition workers without the required permits from the City and the County. The County was not informed about the leaking tank or the observations of contaminated soil below it until August 18. Hazardous waste specialists visited the site on August 19, when they opened a case file to investigate the unauthorized release of a hazardous substance and determine the scope of its clean-up.
“They should have put it back in the ground when they found it,” noted Jim Morris, an Underground Storage Tank inspector with the County, “and then they should have called us.”
Instead of notifying County officials immediately, as is protocol in such cases, representatives of Burke Advisors—the Construction Management team on site—arranged for Criterion Environmental, Inc. to collect soil samples and test for levels of contamination on behalf of an entity listed as Villa Riviera Real Estate Co., Inc. in care of PBCH Project Management (an entity not previously known to be associated with Cottage’s Workforce Housing Project).
According to the report issued by Criterion, the Ventura-based engineering firm collected those soil samples on August 6 at 11:15 a.m. That was the same morning that the construction firm states the tank was discovered, unearthed, moved, relocated and removed from the ground and from the cement encasing it.
The discovery and presence of the tank is not mentioned in the PEC’s daily field log on August 6, or on any other date until August 25 (pictured left), which states, “Underground storage tank to be analyzed by County Fire which will include soil samples.”
Weekly reports issued to the city on weeks ending August 6, 13 and 20 and signed by Dudek employee, John Cuykendall, Project Environmental Coordinator (PEC), fail to mention the tank, the contamination observed, or the soil testing conducted at the site. The discovery and removal of the leaking tank was not mentioned in the required weekly report to the City until September 1. That report notes, “On August 24, 2010, the PEC was informed by the Construction Manager that an approximate 2,000 gallon underground storage tank (UST) was discovered encased in concrete below the former Boiler Room adjacent to Salsipuedes Street by Standard Industries on August 6, 2010.”
According to the city planner assigned to Cottage’s condo project, Allison De Busk, she had no knowledge of the leaking fuel tank at the St. Francis site until August 27, when she learned that representatives of the contractor were seeking to obtain a permit to remove the tank.
“The breakdown in this case,” she speculated, “is that the construction manager didn’t believe this involved the Project Environmental Coordinator or the City, and made his first contact with the APCD.” [Air Pollution Control Board]
Levels of Contamination
According to the soils analysis issued by Criterion Environmental on August 13, the soil is too contaminated to be disposed of at Tajiguas Landfill or elsewhere in Santa Barbara County. The firm recommended that the soil be transported to “a hazardous materials landfill” outside the county.
The soil removed for testing at the St. Francis site contained what was described by engineers as “an oily like substance.” The test results reveal a TPH (Total Petroleum Hydrocarbon) Diesel Range of 6,900-8,000 ppm, considered a very high concentration.
The site assessment to determine the extent of the contamination will include excavation to a depth of 16 to 18 feet (as deep as a backhoe can dig), and several soil samples taken for analysis. Yet to be determined is where the contaminated soil, the tank and the sludgelike contents of the tank—which have been tested at 800,000 ppm—will end up.
The County Fire Department’s hazardous waste team will determine whether or not any additional actions are required after the site assessment. If there are additional actions, the public will have an opportunity to comment on the corrective action plan.