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Suffolk to pay $2M federal penalty over underground tanks

Suffolk has agreed to pay $2 million in federal penalties for not properly monitoring the county's 68 underground fuel-storage tanks, though the bulk of the money will remain within the county for further environmental land purchases.

The county legislature ratified a revised pact Tuesday after the Bellone administration in July balked at an earlier $2.55-million deal and sought to renegotiate details of the federal consent agreement.

Under the final agreement, the county will pay $500,000 in civil fines, $25,000 less than the original resolution, and spend $1.5 million to buy land beyond existing land-preservation programs, to help protect the underground water supply.

The original resolution also required the county to pay $530,000 in soft land-acquisition costs like title searches, environmental audits and appraisals, but the final resolution estimates those costs at $150,000. In addition, County Attorney Dennis Brown said a $300,000 provision for the county to install a central monitoring system for tanks became unworkable and was not included in the final resolution.

Federal authorities contend the county violated leak-prevention rules for underground tanks at 35 sites, but they acknowledged the violations "did not pose an immediate threat" to drinking water in the county. Suffolk officials said many of the violations, dating to 2008, involved record keeping, oversight in filling fuel tanks, and handling special wastes, including fluorescent lights.

Gilbert Anderson, public works commissioner, said the county has already hired two employees to improve fuel handling, and federal officials estimate the value of the county's future compliance measures at $1.15 million.

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