Council rejects EPA request - Deny EPA permission to drill on right-of-way

By Dan Hammes
Saint Maries Gazette


Saint Maries, Idaho - At least three members of the St. Maries City Council do not trust the EPA to keep its word.

That is the conclusion that could be drawn from a 3-2 vote Monday declining permission for a contractor to drill a test well on city property at the behest of the federal agency.

The drilling was part of work by the contractor to determine whether leaking fuel tanks have contaminated soil at the Cabin City gas station, kitty-corner from Woodlawn Cemetery.

“They’re trying to check our property out and they would like to see if there are any other problems or not,” Rich Haeg, an owner of the business, said. Mr. Haeg, who serves on the city council, recused himself from the vote.

“They have not even declared that our site is a problem yet. That’s what they’re trying to find out,” he said.

In addition to testing on the site of the gas station, the EPA wanted to drill test holes a small distance from the property, to see if any contamination had spread.

That is how the city became involved.

The contractor asked permission to drill on city property across the street from the service station.

Officials with the EPA assured Nancy Wolff, the city’s attorney, that the city would not be liable for any cleanup costs if the ground were contaminated. Congress approved funding to pay for all cleanup costs for leaking fuel tanks on Indian reservations.

St. Maries Oil is located on the Coeur d’Alene Indian reservation.

The EPA official said there was plenty of federal money to complete the cleanup if the site were contaminated.

“He just basically said this cleanup fund is “resource rich,” Ms. Wolff said. “They have more money than they have cleanup sites.”

That prompted questions from the council why the EPA could not pay to cleanup the St. Maries Creosote site. The city has spent more than $200,000 on the site since it was discovered - with cleanup yet to begin.

Federal law prohibits the use of the money for the creosote site, Ms. Wolff said.

Six years’ experience with the EPA over the creosote site made some of the councilmen wary of any verbal agreement with the federal agency.

“I make a motion we deny it. I don’t think it is in our best interest to let them drill in our right of way,” Jerry Wicks said. “I don’t want to deal with the EPA any more than we have to.”

Rick Haeg said the city may not be able to stop the drilling.

“What happens if you don’t let them and they find another way with a private landowner?” he asked.

That didn’t convince Mr. Wicks to change his mind.

“I would say no, even if we had their assurances. I don’t want them drilling on our property,’ he said.

After considerable discussion, Ed Spooner seconded Mr. Wicks’ motion. He said without written guarantees from the EPA, he could not support the drilling.

Rudy Brandvold joined Mr. Spooner and Mr. Wicks in the vote to deny the request to drill. Bud Chadbourne and Blair Peet voted to allow the drilling.

The vote at 6:15 p.m. Monday came just hours before the drilling was scheduled to start.

The contractor hired by the EPA was scheduled to be in St. Maries Tuesday. Ms. Wolff will meet with the official from the EPA to discuss the council’s concerns.


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