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EAA ready to sue company over fuel tank

Law dating to 2002 bans such storage facilities over aquifer.

For the first time, the Edwards Aquifer Authority is preparing to sue a company to enforce a ban on new storage tanks over the aquifer.

The EAA law states there can be no new tanks, whether they store sewage or fuel, above the recharge zone. Any spill would go directly into San Antonio's drinking water supply and the city has no means of treatment.

“We are trying to protect water quality,” said Luana Buckner, EAA board chairwoman.

Since the ban was enacted in 2002it went unchallenged.  Then in 2009 Lattimore Materials installed a 12,000-gallon diesel tank at its quarry southeast of Medina Lake.

According to EAA records, on Aug. 20 EAA staff inspected the quarry and told the company its tank was a violation.

On Oct. 6 the EAA informed the company it had a month to remove the tank. Lattimore responded with a phone call that it wanted to discuss the matter with the EAA board.

After meeting with Lattimore, the board voted 14-1 this month for staff to prepare to sue the company.

Buckner explained the EAA law does not allow the board to give exemptions, but a waiver is possible. If Lattimore can find another tank of equal or greater size that was built above the recharge zone before 2002 and persuade or pay the owner to dismantle it, Lattimore can keep its tank.

“They have given us a grace period,” said Lattimore lawyer Greg Brewer.

Brewer argues that when his company bought the quarry on FM 1283 in 2008, it had a permit from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality for the tank and did not believe it needed anything else. He said the permanent double-walled steel tank that sits in a cement trough is safer than having a tanker truck arrive at the quarry each day.

“It would probably take an act of God for that thing to leak,” Brewer said.

But those who argue for the protection of Edwards water quality want to see the company comply with the law.

“How can we expect a company that so blatantly violates regulations to take other steps, especially those regarding the maintenance of this structure, that are required to protect our aquifer?” said Annalisa Peace, executive director of the Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance.

For former EAA board member George Rice the argument that the tank is safer is not credible. Rice is a groundwater hydrologist with more than 20 years' experience in hazardous waste investigations. He is also one of the staunchest advocates for the protection of the Edwards.

“No reasonable person will guarantee a tank won't leak,” he said.

Rice further points out that diesel contains toxic chemicals and possible carcinogens and is not something, in any quantity, that should enter the aquifer.

By Colin McDonald

San Antonio Express News