Test results are in for the Elkton Auto Corral, but where the dispute goes from here is anyone's guess.
Susan Mullen, who owns the used car dealership along with her husband Jay, said they have received a preliminary report performed by the environmental consulting firm retained by BP, and "it says our alley is clean" and any contamination is below detection limits.
Performed April 1 in the alley behind the building that houses the dealership offices and service area, the soil test borings were done at the request of the village, which is concerned about contamination issues discovered during a storm sewer project undertaken two years ago.
Mullen does not know if she is at liberty to release the results since the consulting firm works for BP, so the newspaper is trying to obtain a copy through the state. Village Solicitor Virginia Barborak received an emailed copy but declined comment because she has yet to review the report.
The roots of the dispute date back to 2012 during the course of installing the storm sewers under South Jefferson Street. The private contractor hired by Lisbon came in contact with a strong odor of gasoline after excavating the lateral line connecting the municipal sewer line to the dealership, which was closed at the time. The contractor sealed off the lateral line per village regulations, and later that year the Mullenses purchased the former Quinn Chevrolet dealership but did not discover sewer service had been disconnected until 2013, when the bathroom and service area drains began backing up.
The area of the lateral line is where the recent test borings were conducted. Lisbon officials say the lateral line cannot be reconnected to the village sewer system while the threat of possible contamination exists, which is attributed to the former BP gas station once located in front of the dealership building along East Lincoln Way.
"We're certainly not going to take a risk of contaminating a public sewer system by reconnecting that line," Barborak said.
The gas station closed sometime in the 1970s and the underground storage tanks were removed about 1980. A preliminary assessment performed in 2002 by BP found soil and shallow groundwater contamination at the front of the property. Remediation efforts resumed once the Mullenses purchased the property, and BP is about to begin cleaning up the groundwater using an on-site pump-and-filtration system housed in a trailer recently brought to the gas station site.
While the village had pledged to do what it can to help the Mullenses and agreed to waive the minimum $600 tap fee, officials have made it clear the property owners are responsible for reconnecting to the sewer system, no matter the outcome of the April 1 tests.
Barborak said the village could not reconnect the dealership anyway because the Mullenses signed a "no dig" agreement with BP, which means only BP or its agents can do any excavating on the property since it is a remediation site.
In addition to cleaning up the property, the village suggested the Mullenses replace the lateral line with a "force-made material," such as PVC or ductile iron pipe since the clay line in use is prone to leak.
This was disputed by Mrs. Mullen, who said they paid to have the lateral line examined twice while trying to find the blockage. "I have paperwork from two companies that snaked the line that says my pipe is intact. That's not the problem," she said.
As for any contamination in the lateral line, two state agencies - the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and the Ohio Bureau of Underground Storage Tank Regulations (BUSTR) - have no record of being contacted by the village.
Christine Psycher is an environmental specialist with BUSTR, which is overseeing BP's remediation effort. She said BUSTR or the OEPA should have been contacted and one of them would have investigated the matter.
"If it's something that threatens the water of the state it's something we would want to hear about," said OEPA spokeswoman Linda Oros. But Oros is unsure if just the odor of gasoline warrants contacting the OEPA. "It's kind of a gray area," she conceded.
Mike Ours, the village water/sewer supervisor, said there was no need to contact the OEPA "because everyone knew (the property) was contaminated and was scheduled to be cleaned up."
Meanwhile, the Mullenses are still considering their options, which include moving some or all of the dealership operations back to their original location in Elkton. Mrs. Mullen pointed out they have paid $7,285 in village taxes between January 2013 and March 31, 2014.
Barborak said while Lisbon officials are grateful the Mullenses moved their dealership to Lisbon and for the taxes they pay, the village's hands in this matter are tied. She said the Mullenses should be trying to get BP to pay for reconnecting the dealership to the sewer system because they are responsible for the contamination. Mrs. Mullen has said BP believes just the opposite.