Safety a concern for some with Royal Farms

Safety concerns were a topic of interest at Ocean View’s preliminary site plan hearing for Royal Farms this past week, although no one actually opposed the project directly, which includes a convenience store and gas station to be located at 54 Atlantic Avenue, on Route 26, adjacent to the new CVS store and Mariner’s Bethel United Methodist Church.

The Town had previously been in court regarding the property owner’s request to combine the lots for uses under General Business zoning, which means Royal Farms is now able to have the site plan reviews done under the Town’s old code. Charlie McMullen, of the Town, added that, with the outcome of another lawsuit that the Town lost, gas stations are considered part of a convenience store and therefore a permissible use for the property.

“The use was established by a court ruling when the Town declined to grant a conditional use to the Marino property across from Savannah’s Landing. They went to court, and the court found that gas pumps are inherent with convenient stores in today’s age. Therefore, they were permitted to put a convenience store with gas pumps.”

Planning and Zoning voted this past week to approve the preliminary site plan with conditions. They will come back with a final site plan review in the coming weeks.Former P&Z chairman Dick Logue expressed some concerns and offered some recommendations to the town.

“I am not speaking for or against it,” said the Savannah’s Landing resident, “but I have some recommendations.”

He recommended that the town have an emergency plan in the case of a leak in the gas tanks and suggested it should be “tied in with the county, both fire departments, the state, public works, everybody. God forbid something happens and we don’t know what to do. We don’t want to start calling around and saying ‘who should we call?’”

He also suggested the monitoring of the inventory in the tanks to show if they are leaking or not and asked about runoff from surface spills. “When we have 7 inches of rain like we had the other day, and the holding areas overflow, that rain has got to go somewhere. You can say it is the state’s responsibility but I think you would agree it is the town’s responsibility to protect the citizens as much as possible.”

He explained that he had the concerns because of two recent cases in Baltimore County and Cecil County (Md.) where Royal Farms was fined. In speaking, he referenced an article highlighting the incidents.

“The reason I bring this to your attention is they were fined $600,000 for leaks and also required to check 70 other stores and do an inventory monitoring process,” said Logue. “One of the leaks was found because a sump pump in a man’s basement was full of gasoline. The other was they found five wells that had chemicals from gasoline in them. [In the sump pump incident] they settled with the family for $2.7 million.”

According to a fact sheet posted online by the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE), in December 2009, the Baltimore County Fire Department responded to a report of gasoline odors at a residence. They state that approximately 1.5 inches of gasoline was observed in the basement sump of the residence and it was determined that the source of the gasoline was the adjacent Royal Farms facility.

In Cecil County, according to the MDE fact sheet, Methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE) was detected in a monitoring well at 740 parts per billion in 2005 and in June of 2011, they received notification of a new detection of liquid phase hydrocarbons (LPH). The department’s fact sheet stated that they approved a corrective action plan in July 2012.

“What is concerning to me is that in North East (Cecil County), they did not have double walled underground piping even though the state required it,” said Logue. “Whose fault is that? It is the result of somebody’s irresponsibility.”

Jeff Bainbridge, director of real estate for Royal Farm, answered Mr. Logue concerns saying that they did get fined, however he added “it’s not exactly in there the way it actually occurred.”

“Both were older systems, and both were in compliance at the time,” said Bainbridge. “We don’t do that anymore. The codes have changed over the years and they were grandfathered.... What we have now is double walled, double lines and double vents.”

He continued on, saying, “in the particular case in Baltimore County, we did have to buy a home next door. We settled with them. I think he said $2.7 million, it wasn’t that. Um, but we did have to displace somebody and we reached a settlement with them.”

According to a case in the Court of Special Appeals in Maryland between Station Maintenance Solutions Inc. and Two Farms Inc. (dba Royal Farms), it states that the parties agreed that on August 2, 2011 the Ratajczaks (the family who owned the home in Baltimore alleging that approximately 5,400 gallons of gasoline had leaked from from Royal Farm’s underground storage tanks at its facility) and Two Farms, Inc (dba Royal Farms) “participated in a mediation conference, at which they agreed to settle the Ratajczaks’ claims against appellee for $2,700,000, and the Ratajczaks agreed to assign their claims against appellant to appellee” meaning the family gave up any future settlement claims should the courts rule that in fact Station Maintenance was at fault.

Calls for clarification to Mr. Bainbridge were not immediately returned.

“In the case in Northeast, the spill was contained completely within the property — we acted fast as it didn’t spill out anywhere else. Again, the units we had there was older equipment and it was in compliance at the time,” he said last week.

He explained that they are trying to upgrade all of their older systems and have reached an agreement with the MDE and have hired an oversight employee that is “directly responsible just for fuel.”

“As far as the new facilities go, they all have the alarms that you are talking about.”

Town solicitor Dennis Schrader had asked if there was an alarm on the tank that could notify area fire departments immediately of a leak or other fire hazard.

Bainbridge said he would check on alarms that specifically go to fire departments, but said the alarms they have have the capability to alert the store directly and “for those employees that may not follow the rules, that alarm is also hooked up to our corporate office,” in a nod to Logue’s concerns that part of the Cecil County case could be traced back to “incompetent employees.”

“We also have people come out every other month to monitor those books to keep track at the store level and then we have an outside agency as well to monitor that. We have taken a lot of steps in the right direction.”

He concluded by reiterating that those incidents took place in Maryland and “Delaware has different codes and different aspects and again it was older equipment at those stores and frankly that could happen again in some of the older stores in the area but we are putting new, modern equipment in place. We have 151 stores and we had to change some things . We are investing a heck of a lot of money in our facilities to avoid the systems we had in the early late 80s.”

According to the MDE, the tanks in Baltimore County were put in place in 1993 and the tanks in Cecil County were installed in in 1999.

When asked by Schrader if Delaware had had any similar incidents, Logue said he hadn’t checked.

“It seems to me the state agency failed to inspect and the contractor failed to comply with the regulations” said Schrader.

“I haven’t checked the Delaware records,” answered Logue. “You can point fingers all you want, the point is stuff happens.”

A list of Delaware violations can be found by searching online at .

According to Delaware regulations, there are daily, monthly and yearly checks that take place to show that underground storage tanks are not leaking and DNREC checks those records every three years to make sure they are in compliance, explained Alex Rittberg of Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC).

“During construction we check the tanks three times,” he said. “When the tanks are set, when the piping is run, and we have final system testing.”

He said the town could have stipulations above and beyond the state regulations, but the state is primarily responsible for underground storage tank regulations. McMullen said that would not be probable because of the town’s lack of resources and enforcement capability.

“The town could always be more stringent, but we have no capability nor the resources to supercede the state,” he said. “Towns could always make it more stringent, but will we? Probaby no.”

When asked if the town felt comfortable with the state overseeing the underground storage tank regulations, he said, “we like to think the state is doing their job. Nothing is 100 percent. But, our ability to regulate is somewhat diminished by resources and we depend on the state and federal regulations.”

To view Delaware’s regulations, visit online.