Grant programs backlog slows tank removal process

By James M. ONeil THE RECORD

When Eliot Zigmans heating oil contractor suggested he have an underground oil tank removed from his yard, Zigman thought it would be good for the environment and eliminate a potential stumbling block if he ever sold his Teaneck home.

But when workers began digging to remove the 550 gallon tank, complications began to pile up. The soil had the distinct odor of oil that had seeped from holes in the tank.

Cleaning up Zigmans side yard became a boondoggle.  Workers dug down 17 feet, removed 250 tons of contaminated soil, carted away dirt from a neighbors yard and tore away and rebuilt a foundation wall of Zigmans house.  The work cost more than $300,000, Zigman said.  Zigmans Insurance will covered the bulk of cleanup cost, but he is on the hook for nearly 20 percent, about $60,000.

He thought the states underground storage tank grant program would cover it, but the program ran dry in May.  Its like being plucked off the street and stuck into a Kafka novel, said Zigman, 66.

He is not alone. The program has a backlog of more than 1,700 applications, some $52 million worth of storage tank removal and cleanup projects.  It will take a few years to get through the backlog, said Frank Pinto, assistant director for contracting and financial services with the state Department of Environmental Protection. The DEP runs the program with the state Economic Development Authority.

Many homeowners who already applied are waiting for their money. Others who might have proceeded with tank removals have held off.  Meanwhile, testing underground storage tanks and removing them has become the real estate Industry standard when a home is for sale.  Most lenders and buyers now require testing or ask the sellers to remove the tank, said Pinto. That has increased the programs popularity.  In addition, many homeowner insurance policies stopped providing standard coverage of tank removals and cleanup six years ago.

Since the state grant program began under former Gov. Christie Whitman in 1997, it has paid for more than 15,000 tank removals, said the EPAs Erin Gold.

The program provides grants and loans to those who qualify based on income and other factors. The find has been financed through a state constitutional amendment, which dedicates a portion of the state corporate business tax to the DEP for both the fund and for cleanup of hazardous sites or Brownfields?

But over the years, far more money came in than the $11 million to $14 million disbursed for tank removal projects each year.  By 2006, there was a $90 million dollars plus, so the Legislature decided, with voter approval, to divert the corporate business tax money to the Brownfields program. Lawmakers also started to divert money to cover other expenses, including DEP administration.

At the same time, lawmakers expanded the tank grant program eligibility to cover tanks that were not leaking. Since 2006, more than 10,000 non leaking tanks have been removed through the pro-grain. The program in some cases also covers installation of new above ground tanks.  It became a very popular program, and in effect was a victim of its own success, Pinto said. The fund was given $14 million In July, but that will not be enough: In 2008 and 2009, the fund paid out $20 million each year. Payouts in 2010 exceeded $40 million.  James M ONeal

This guy is an ingrate.  The taxpayers paid for most of his problem.  What ever happened to personal responsibility? 

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