68 more gas stations have now complied with new state rule
By Yudislaidy Fernandez
Ten Miami-Dade County inspectors are enforcing new Florida fuel storage tank regulations that mandate that all gas stations have double-walled tanks in place by January, whittling down the list to 220 out-of-compliance stations.
A total of 794 underground fuel storage tanks didn't meet state regulations as of November because 288 gas stations in Miami-Dade hadn't complied with the state environmental laws, the county's Department of Environmental Resources Management says. But an updated list to soon be released shows that 68 additional gas stations have complied in recent weeks.
The state has given a 90-day extension to gas station owners who have signed contracts to complete installation of new fuel tanks, says Marguerite Jordan, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
As more gas stations with construction contracts in place make needed upgrades, the list should continue to dwindle, county environmental inspectors say.
Owners with underground storage tanks, making up the majority of stations in South Florida, have until Dec. 31 to comply. The deadline to upgrade aboveground storage is Jan. 1.
But some station operators are struggling to meet the deadline because gas tank upgrades can cost up to $400,000 at a time business is slow because of the economy and banks aren't financing this type of improvement since new tank installation won't generate added revenues.
Those gas stations on the state's watch list that have failed to upgrade or start the process to comply within 90 days are at risk of shutting down.
Those owners can choose to stay in business, operating convenience stores for example, but must permanently empty the out-of-compliance tanks and stop selling gasoline. They then would have two years to remove the tanks.
Others who are just starting to upgrade their tanks can work with the state's environmental department to obtain a consent order, in which the owner agrees to comply by a specific date, Ms. Jordan explained.
But that's as far as the options go. Otherwise, gas station owners are expected to comply.
"The state can pursue legal action in circuit court against any tank owner that continues to operate non-compliance facilities," she says.
Locally, seven inspectors and three supervisors in the county's Department of Environmental Resources Management see that the state's storage tank program is implemented. Every year, these inspectors visit tank owners, inspecting for leaks and making sure tanks and piping system are running smoothly, said Mayra Flagler, section manager for the program.
But with the deadline around the corner for gas stations to comply with new regulations, inspectors are getting ready to start handing final notices to those who haven't complied.
"The deadline has been in place for over 10 years. We have been reminding operators they needed to upgrade," Ms. Flagler said.
Rules to upgrade single-walled underground storage tanks and piping with double-walled systems were set in 1991 and the state environmental department says it's not planning to extend deadlines.
Come late March — the end of the three-month grace period the state has allowed to complete tank improvements — the state is to release a policy for the next step of enforcement, says Hardeep Anand, chief of pollution regulation and enforcement division for the county's Department of Environmental Resources Management.
The final enforcement process is something that the state's environmental department will roll out, he says.
But with almost 70 more gas stations coming into compliance in recent weeks and others in the construction phase, the department is making progress.
"The numbers don't seem to be that bad," Mr. Anand said. "Hopefully, quite a few of them [gas station owners] will enter or are in the process of entering into a contract."
Because Florida relies on groundwater for most of its drinking water, it has some of the most stringent environmental rules in the nation, the state environmental department says. It also has some of the toughest state laws for owning and maintaining underground fuel storage tanks, such as making the use of double-walled tanks mandatory.
"The purpose behind it [the tank upgrades] is that we live in a very unique environment and any release of fuel into the environment, whether in the soil or groundwater, becomes a threat to the drinking water supply. That is why this is so important," Mr. Anand said. "There were 10 years given to these folks to comply with these standards."