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Groundwater Protection Still Has Far to Go

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RALEIGH — In December, the state began more aggressive enforcement of laws designed to protect our groundwater. So far the effort to make thousands of underground fuel tanks safe is making some progress, but it still has a way to go.

Burke Overby knew his gas station was in trouble three years ago.

"The people digging said they could smell some gasoline," he recalls.

The aroma was gasoline that had mixed with the groundwater under his convenience store property.

Overby said that news hit him "like a heart attack" when he heard it.

This happened when Overby was installing new tanks and pumps to comply with new rules requiring better detection of underground fuel leaks.

Now he's on a non-compliance list until another machine removes all the gasoline from his groundwater.

"It's running right now, 24 hours a day. How long might it be? I don't know. They say it could be two or three or four years."

Overby's station is among hundreds of places on North Carolina's non-compliance list. A few months ago one of every three facilities was on the list; now it's down to one in four.

In most cases it's just a matter of mailing in the right paperwork on the tanks.

But there are still places like Sampson County where nearly half the facilities aren't in compliance.

"You also have, in some of the more rural counties, areas that often are what we call the mom-and-pop operations, where folks perhaps don't understand the regulations or find it a little more difficult to do the notification in filling the forms out and all," says Mike Kelly, deputy director of the Division of Waste Management.

Burke Overby wishes that's all it would take to get him off the list.

"I sure do. It could have been a lot easier that way"

The state is behind in processing a lot of this paperwork on the underground fuel tanks. A number of organizations listed on a recent non-compliance list are actually in compliance. Among those erroneously put on the list: NC-State, WakeMed, and the Prestonwood Country Club. Companies and agencies that aren't making an effort to get their tanks in compliance can face fines of up to $10,000 a day.

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Len Besthoff, Reporter
Mark Copeland, Photographer
Kay Miller, Web Editor

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