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Dec 2020 – Miss Utility

Near Miss Utility: A Brownfields Remediation Project in Two Parts

The Brownfields Team at Environmental Standards has encountered everything from former ordinances to miles of discarded buried tires when conducting environmental site assessments of former industrial sites. Underground storage tanks (USTs) are often discovered during early-stage investigations. Sometimes they bring surprises.

Recently, Environmental Standards field personnel were responsible for the excavation of an abandoned UST at a Brownfields site in the Mid-Atlantic region. Prior to the removal, staff reviewed the state’s environmental agency 1985 closure report, which concluded that the contents of the 1,000-gallon aforementioned tank had been removed and that the tank was then abandoned in place by filling with sand.

Before beginning excavation, our Field Team contacted “Miss Utility” – the 1-call notification center and the organization responsible for ensuring utility lines are not damaged during an excavation such as a UST removal. A representative from “Miss Utility” dutifully arrived and formally marked out the utilities and rights of way. To be doubly and triply sure we had accounted for utility lines that may have been missed by “Miss Utility,” we hired a private utility-locating service to clear the specific excavation area that had already been delineated by our local 1-call system resource.

Some of you may not be surprised to learn that shortly after excavation began, we discovered that the tank was full of weathered fuel oil, had leaked and was actually a 10,000-gallon tank, not the 1,000-gallon tank as reported in the state environmental agency’s UST closure report.

After taking the appropriate steps to notify the relevant parties and ensure the tank’s contents were rendered inert, excavation continued.

Over the years, Environmental Standards has developed long-standing partnerships with contractors whose expertise and experience are beyond measure. On that day, our tank contractor was operating his mini-excavator with surgical precision. And for that, we are incredibly thankful as he helped us avoid what would have resulted in us NOT receiving kudos and fan mail from the local university and medical center that are served by the 400-cable fiber optic trunk line he happened to “nudge” with the teeth of the excavator bucket.

Thanks to our experienced excavating contractor and Field Geologist who had been to the UST game-of-chance before, the Field Team was able to avoid an expensive mistake and a probable public relations nightmare.

Part two of this story follows that when the “Miss Utility” representative returned to the site upon our notification of our surprise encounter, he pointed out that there also existed a second fiber optic line which was not only similar in size to our nearmiss line, but also functioned as a local utility trunk line for the town center.

Most people likely agree with our recommendation that hiring an experienced contractor is well worth the additional cost and that one should prepare for an surprise or two once excavation commences. Additionally, UST excavations are often given short shrift of attention, treated with the same swift glance you would give a grocery store receipt (unless you’re my father). But, it is the responsibility of all of us to take care and pay it the extra attention so we can avoid harm to our employees and contractors in addition to avoiding expensive mistakes and costly delays.

Gerry Kirkpatrick

Managing Partner