Fuel-tank problems could cost $250,000; City must close sites, buy more gas and oil


Baltimore will pay up to $250,000 for emergency gasoline and oil this winter because several city-operated gas tanks failed to meet the federal government's underground storage tank regulations.

The city is one of several municipalities across the state that have not brought underground storage tanks up to code, despite having 10 years to meet the law, state officials said.

Yesterday's expenditure, approved by the board of estimates, comes as the city faces a $25 million budget deficit next year.

George G. Balog, director of the city's Public Works Department, said the city has upgraded most of its several hundred underground storage tanks, at a cost of more than $2 million. But the city failed to meet the state deadline on two essential gas tanks that the city must shut down until it reaches an agreement with the state on a time frame to bring them up to code, Balog said.

It's a matter of money, Balog said after the approval. "All the funds we had, we used," he said.

The city will spend $250,000 on an "as-needed" basis for fuel for city vehicles and heating oil for city buildings. Officials transferred $204,000 to ease a deficit in its fund to upgrade the tanks.

With fuel crucial this time of year, the city solicited informal bids from contractors to work on the tanks. Two bidders -- Carroll Independent Fuel Co. at $200,000 and Operator's Energy Services at $50,000 -- were selected.

In 1988, the federal government passed a law that gave tank owners until Dec. 22, 1998, to upgrade their underground storage tanks to prevent fuel leaks that could contaminate soil and water. Last month, the Maryland Department of the Environment estimated that 85 percent of the underground fuel tanks throughout the state are in compliance.

Most of the 2,600 tanks in Maryland not meeting the standards are owned by taxi companies, tire stores, farms, lumberyards, small businesses, trucking companies and municipal governments, said Department of the Environment spokesman Quentin Banks. Banks said the state is trying to determine how many municipalities failed to meet the law.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimated the average cost of upgrading a tank at $5,000 to $12,000. Replacing a tank can cost more than $20,000.

"It wasn't a matter of time," Balog said of the city's situation. "It was a matter of money."

Pub Date: 1/21/99

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