Lansing School District plans to remove underground fuel tanks

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By Sergio Martínez-Beltrán
Old Town Lansing Times Staff Reporter

Seven underground fuel tanks owned by the Lansing Board of Education could be removed after a vote on Nov. 5 by the board to recommend Lansing-based Triterra for the part of sub-contractor of the project.

Lansing School District Chief of Operations Teresa Szymanski said the fuel tanks, located at the Lansing School District’s Service Center at 1717 Sam’s Way, are now unnecessary and their removal should be made as soon as possible.

“We needed to have them for a fleet of 70-odd buses because we added the fuel in anticipation,” Szymanski said. “The kind of vehicle we have right now does not require that amount of critical mass of fuel we have right now.”

Szymanski said the area needed to be cleaned anyway.

The project was assigned to Triterra, a company that bid on the project even when a bid was not out. They have done business with the Lansing School District before, Szymanski said.

However, Triterra was not the only company to submit a bid, Szymanski said.

Three vendors also submitted bids, according to official documents.

Triterra Marketing Manager Trystin Vanderstelt told the board the company was unable to start the cleaning since a contract is yet to exist.

“We don’t actually have the contract yet,” Vanderstelt said. “We can’t start working on it until we know.”

However, the decision didn’t sit well for everyone in the Board of Education.

Lansing Board of Education Trustee Guillermo Lopez questioned how Triterra got the bid on the first place.

“I thought that was going to be voted for bid,” Lopez said. “I don’t know if they are the only environmentalists in the area, that’s my concern.”

The $35,000 contract could be given to Triterra for professional services and the removal of the fuel tanks.

Lansing Board of Education President Peter Spadafore also justified the decision.

“Triterra’s bid was much more smaller amount of money,” Spadafore said. “There probably could’ve been two different contracts that both could be under the board threshold … it’s up to the board.”

But the removal of underground fuel would benefit not only the Lansing School District but the community.

University of Kentucky Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences Professor Frank Ettensohn said having underground fuel tanks could contribute to the contamination of our soils and, worst-case scenario, our water.

“There are two sources of environmental impact: sometimes these tanks leak and polluting agents can actually enter to the water table,” Ettensohn said.

Ettensohn said the years the fuel tanks have been in use play an important role in the leaking of fuel into the soil.

Once in the soil, oil and fuel could migrate so deep that it will be near impossible to clean, Ettensohn said.

But, underground fuel tanks are not unusual.

“Any gas station, you don’t see the tanks. They are all underground,” Ettensohn said. “Tanks are everywhere … (leaks) can happen with any type of system when you have underground storage.”

Ettensohn said it is hard to know if there have been leaks before removing the tanks — a soil assessment is needed in order to know if there has been a leak and how far it has traveled.

The soil contaminated, if not too deep, is replaced with new, healthy soil once the removal is done, Ettensohn said.

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