Agency Vows Fines in Its Search for Plume Source

Times Staff Writer

Water pollution officials vowed Monday to get tough with some downtown property owners who have continued to ignore their requests to help find the source of a giant plume of underground fuel now threatening redevelopment efforts.

State Regional Water Quality Control Board members endorsed a course of action by their staff to levy administrative fines--possibly as much as $1,000 a day--for the handful of companies that fail by Jan. 31 to allow underground tests to determine the source of the plume made up of old petroleum.

Failure to find the sources of the plume, thought to consist of about 450,000 gallons, is stalling cleanup efforts by the Centre City Development Corp., the redevelopment arm of the city of San Diego.

Won’t Proceed on Cleanup


So far, the CCDC has spent $630,000 to study and monitor the plume, which encompasses all or parts of nine blocks in the Marina Redevelopment Area, running roughly between 1st and 3rd avenues and between Market Street and Island Avenue.

But the redevelopment agency will not proceed with a $5.3-million cleanup of the mess unless it knows which properties caused the problem so they can be billed, said Pam Hamilton, the CCDC’s executive vice president.

Finding the sources is up to the regional water board, and it has narrowed the possibilities to four downtown sites thought to have active or abandoned underground tanks, said David Barker, a board staff member.

Only one property owner--the Greyhound bus company--has agreed to comply with the board’s request to conduct soil samples to determine if its tanks have contributed to the plume. The results were submitted in December and are being studied, Barker said.

Former and current owners of the remaining three downtown sites, however, have repeatedly refused requests to conduct the soil samples, Barker said. While a number of letters have been sent to the former and current owners during 1988, some have ignored the requests while others have written back to say they would not comply, he said.

Board staffers have threatened the property owners with fines if they do not comply by Jan. 31, and water board members said they will back that up.

“Sock it to ‘em,” said board member Terrance D. Thelan.

Undecided on Size of Fines

Ladin H. Delaney, the board’s executive officer, said staff members have not decided on the size of administrative fines to be levied, but they could be as much as $1,000 a day for every day a property owner has failed to respond to the board letters, which were initially sent out in January, 1988.

The CCDC’s Hamilton told water board members that the plume is hampering redevelopment efforts.

“We can’t acquire the land if there is suspicion that it is contaminated by the plume,” she said, adding that “lenders are afraid of this area.”

She also said a study conducted in August shows that the plume has slowed in its migration toward San Diego Bay and the construction site of the new waterfront convention center. She also said the CCDC has decided to drill 18 new wells to keep tabs on the plume.

David Allsbrook, the CCDC’s project director, said two redevelopment efforts have been delayed because of the plume. Development agreements have been extended a year, until February, 1990, for Tyson Plaza--bounded by 1st Avenue, G Street, Market Street and 2nd Avenue--and the Courtyard--bounded by 1st Avenue, Front Street, G Street and Market Street.

Both of these proposed high-rise apartment and retail projects border or cover areas of the plume, Allsbrook said.