The BP/Arco station in Seal Beach, where leaky underground storage takes have caused the ground to be contaminated. Residents have been trying to get the site cleaned up for decades. (Photo by: Tracy Wood)

BP/ARCO has told Orange County health officials it will finally complete a 25-year odyssey to clean up pollution in Seal Beach caused by leaky underground tanks by as early as next summer.

To complete the clean-up, the ARCO gas station at the corner of Pacific Coast Highway and Fifth Street will be torn down and earth beneath the station will be excavated and trucked to a safe location, said Darrell Fah, the company’s operations project manager, in a letter last week to the Orange County Health Care Agency.

The “dig and haul” clean-up method had been advocated by residents, the city and a volunteer technical committee that had been advising the city on effective contamination removal techniques. In August, the Health Care Agency ordered the oil company to use the excavation method to rid the ground of pollutants.

However, residents and the city also wanted BP/ARCO to “chase” the gasoline leak wherever it migrated and dig it all out, even if that meant excavating in the adjacent residential neighborhood.

The BP/ARCO plan calls for excavating only on the gas station property and, if necessary, under an adjacent strip mall. But it doesn’t propose going into the residential neighborhood or under nearby streets.

“The excavation does not extend as far as we had hoped but is substantial,” City Manager David Carmany said in an email.

Neighbors are planning to meet later this week to discuss the plan.

The clean-up would bring to a close more than 25 years of negotiations, meetings, picketing and debate over how best to eliminate the air, ground and water pollution caused when a gasoline tank under the gas station sprang a serious leak.

Last winter, three homes were temporarily evacuated because fumes from the underground spill spread to an adjacent neighborhood.

In addition, when the gasoline station is gone, it isn’t clear whether the family running the station will get another franchise.

“A lease termination notice has been sent to the current service station operator that indicates that the current lease will be terminated on November 23, 2010,” according to the proposed cleanup plan.

The BP/ARCO plan calls for the station to be torn down in November, for pumps to be used to draw out initial fumes as a protection for workers and nearby residents and for the entire site to be excavated and filled with clean dirt.

If it all goes as scheduled, the cleanup could be completed by Aug. 26, 2011.

“That will be a happy day,” Carmany said. “We’ll probably throw a party.”


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