DNREC cleaning up former gas station site west of Millville

Activity on a parcel of land just east of the intersection of Routes 17 and 26, across from Hocker’s SuperCenter, has been drawing curious glances and questions from passersby in recent weeks.

The project isn’t sewer expansion or preparation for a new business or community to be built there. Rather, it is one of 17 cleanup sites within the state of Delaware that the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) has been helping remediate since stimulus funds were allocated to help clean up former underground storage sites.

The site, formerly home to the Country Store and Gas Station, and more recently as a used car lot, is more than 5 acres in size, said project officer Patrick Betcher of the Tanks Management Section, which operates under DNREC’s Waste and Hazardous Substances Division. But the actual contaminated site is only the area that can be seen between the newly erected fences, a few hundred feet by about 150 feet.

Betcher said they are being “very aggressive” in the remediation plan that contractors are carrying out. They have asked for a 75 percent reduction in contaminants within a year, and the entire remediation project is scheduled to be completed within three years, “up to the strictest standards.”

“It can take less than a year to over a decade,” said Alex Rittberg, manager of Tanks Management, of how long remediation projects can take to complete. “It is not uncommon for severe contamination,” he said, to take even longer than a decade to remediate.

He explained that the contractor is paid on a “pay-for-performance” basis, with the intention of encouraging them to speed up cleanup of contaminated sites. The consultants get paid at certain stages of the work, rather than paying them periodically according to their time rendered, in an effort to get the remediation done efficiently.

“It is in the consultant’s best interest to help us meet the milestone,” said Rittberg.

Betcher explained that this site has been used for the gas station in the early 1970s and, in the mid-1980s, it was discovered that underground tanks had remained on the site. When they were removed, contamination was found. The project eventually came under the State’s First Fund program, which funds remediation projects for “orphan” tanks, and is now being funded party with the $1.2 million in American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, or stimulus funding, that State received to help cleanup underground storage tank sites.

Rittberg said the State has spent 90 percent of the ARRA money it received that was earmarked for projects like these and expects to have spent it all by January.

The project includes air sparging, soil vapor extraction and extraction and treatment of groundwater. Betcher said they have sampled area wells and done off-site monitoring, and he said the contamination stops “somewhere under the road” and is contained to a relatively small area. He said they do not believe there is any reason for concern among nearby residents about contamination of their groundwater.

“That’s the first thing we do,” explained Ritberg of remediation projects. “We make sure that people are drinking safe water.”

For more information on the project, call DNREC’s Tank Management Section at (302) 395-2500.