Bellone balks at penalties on underground fuel tanks
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Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, who had proposed to pay $2.55 million in federal penalties for not properly monitoring the county's 100 underground fuel storage tanks, is balking at the final consent order for fear it could trigger bigger fines.
Bellone originally had filed a legislative resolution to settle the violations brought by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under the federal Solid Waste Disposal Act. He proposed a separate measure to authorize borrowing to cover the settlement, which was unbudgeted.
Bellone aides who appeared before a legislative committee last week asked that the resolution be tabled because the proposed consent order from the Justice Department was significantly more stringent than the tentative agreement that county and EPA staffs had drafted.
"The order was not consistent with what was negotiated," said Jon Schneider, deputy county executive. "We didn't want to make an agreement where we were set up to fail." John Martin, an EPA spokesman, declined to comment on the issue.
Schneider said the consent order would give "the EPA a number of unilateral rights and put our compliance on an accelerated time line" that would likely result in further penalties. He could not estimate how much more in penalties the county might incur.
Suffolk officials said the violations, dating back as far as 2008, involved record keeping and oversight of the filling of fuel tanks and the handling of special waste, including fluorescent lights. No leaks or contamination occurred, the officials said. Gil Anderson, public works commissioner, said the county has already hired two new employees to improve its fuel handling, fuel deliveries and waste disposal.
Under the resolution that went before lawmakers, Suffolk would make a $525,000 cash payment to the federal government and spend $300,000 on expansion of the central monitoring system for the tanks and other waste. It would require the county to spend $1.2 million beyond existing land preservation programs on additional land acquisition.
Suffolk also would pick up $530,000 in land-acquisition costs, including title searches, appraisals and environmental audits.
Bellone aides said the bulk of the penalty money in the original agreement would be spent within Suffolk, increasing the county's environmental land holdings and improving its handling of fuel and waste.
Schneider said the county is in discussions with federal officials, and the administration hopes to have a revised agreement so lawmakers can act on the deal at their Sept. 14 meeting.