Stimulus money to pay for leaking underground tanks

A former gas station south of Broad Ripple is one site slated for clean-up.
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There is a new development after 13 Investigates first exposed the problem of leaking underground gas tanks suspected of making people sick.

Lawmakers passed a law requiring the state to tell people about leaks in their neighborhoods. 13 Investigates has learned that stimulus dollars will help clean up some of those abandoned sites.

Mark Fakhoury and his dog Cleo live behind an old convenience store gas station, which has been turned into an exterminator service, and was once a restaurant. He told Eyewitness News he did not know the site is a contaminated hazard due to leaking gas tanks underground.

It's one of the state's most pressing potential threats. The Indiana Department of Environmental Management has identified 29 abandoned sites across the state, including the one near Fakhoury's home and one at 2500 Sherman Drive, for immediate clean-up with the help of a $4 million stimulus grant.

"Oh wow. Well that's good," said Fakhoury.

He and other nearby property owners have seen a wave of recent activity at the site just south of Broad Ripple.

"They took out some old gasoline tanks or something that were in the ground, from what I hear, 30 or 40 years ago," said Andrew Vinson, a property owner in the neighborhood.

IDEM tells 13 Investigates it targeted sites with contamination that could impact drinking water wells and sites where owners have tanked so bad financially they have no means to pay for the clean up themselves.

"We have hundreds of these sites around the state," said environmental attorney Tom Barnard.

It was Barnard's case 13 Investigates highlighted in 2007 that prompted lawmakers to pass a new law when it comes to notifying neighbors of underground leaks. For years, companies like 7-Eleven in Goshen were contaminating the soil and ground water with the cancer-causing chemical benzene.

Neighbors had no idea about the spills until they say they started getting sick and companies weren't required to tell anyone about the tanks. 7-Eleven and the neighborhood reached a settlement and the clean-up was just completed weeks ago.

That's one happy ending, but the state still has 2,100 leaking tanks statewide to deal with.

"It's a daunting issue for any state. These economic times, trying to find the funds to clean up these sites," said Barnard. "So I think we have a lot of catching up to do."

In Fakhoury's neighborhood, it's not just getting rid of the threat, but a huge step to allow a new developer to move in.

"I would like to see the plan developed would be the whole block here. Multi-use, I guess. Apartments on the top and then some nice restaurants and things on the bottom," Vinson said.

"Sometimes you kind of just have to come in here and do the right thing, whether the owner does it or not," Fakhoury said.

The $4 million clean-up is a start, but it's just a drop in the bucket. IDEM puts the price tag on the 2,100 sites still out there at $400 million.