Gasoline cleanup at I-95 travel plazas to cost $2.2 million more than projected

The cleanup of soil contaminated by gasoline at two travel plazas on Interstate 95 likely will cost the state $2.2 million more than estimated, according to the Maryland Transportation Authority.

Remediation work at Maryland House in Harford County has cost $2.6 million — far more than the $800,000 planned budget for both sites, officials said. Work is getting underway to assess soil contamination at Chesapeake House in Cecil County, officials said.

The final remediation costs above the initial budget will be subtracted from the rent paid by Areas USA to the state. The Miami-based firm is investing $56 million to renovate the plazas in exchange for leasing rights to operate the facilities through 2047, officials said.

The plazas, which handle more than 2 million visitors per year each, are among the nation's busiest.

State officials say the public-private partnership with Areas USA will bring Maryland more than $400 million in revenue over the life of the contract.

They say remediation of gasoline-contaminated soil is a routine part of redeveloping service-station sites — especially older sites. Maryland House is 50 years old; Chesapeake House is 38. Each had two gas stations.

The new centers will each have only one service station, but with quicker, more efficient pumps, officials say, they will sell a comparable amount of gas to travelers.

The state's contract with Areas includes the $800,000 budget to remediate the first 10,000 cubic yards of contaminated soil found at the sites, at $80 a cubic yard. The state is responsible for the cost of any additional remediation, at the same rate.

Cheryl Sparks, an MdTA spokeswoman, said 10,000 cubic yards was an estimate, and "the true site condition was unknown" at the time the contract was written.

Under the supervision of the Maryland Department of the Environment and the MdTA's environmental engineering staff, about 32,500 cubic yards were determined to be contaminated at the Maryland House site, the MdTA said.

At the rate of $80 per cubic yard — the cheapest among the project proposals received by the state — remediating the additional 22,500 cubic yards of contaminated soil will cost about $1.8 million, officials said.

That work is complete, and Maryland House will reopen this winter, officials said.

At Chesapeake House, crews have begun removing tanks from the ground. The cleanup there is expected to be completed by next fall.

Tests indicate far less contaminated soil at Chesapeake House, state officials said. An estimated $400,000 will have to be spent to remediate about 5,000 cubic yards of soil there, they said.

The total $2.2 million will be paid as a "rent credit" to Areas, Sparks said, and the company will not pay rent to the state until the credit is depleted.

Under previous contracts, Sparks said, MdTA owned and was "ultimately responsible for" the fuel tanks at the station. Under the new contract, the state does not assume that responsibility.

"Under the current lease agreement with Areas, the fuel vendor has ownership of the fuel tanks and would be responsible for any future soil contamination remediation," Sparks said.

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