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Hidden fuel tank discovered, $80K penalty follows

Aboveground tanks and a concrete pad were placed over a hidden underground fuel tank at Fitzgerald Excavating and Trucking in Goodhue. Courtesy of MPCA1 / 2
A toolbox hid the intake equipment for filling the underground tank. Courtesy of MPCA2 / 2

GOODHUE — An excavating and trucking company must pay an $80,000 penalty and take several corrective actions after the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency found an improperly installed underground fuel tank on the property.

Fitzgerald Excavating and Trucking, owned by Jason Fitzgerald, must comply with state rules to protect groundwater after the MPCA's discovery. The agency said Fitzgerald went to great lengths to keep the 12,000-gallon tank at 21432 350th St., Goodhue, hidden from MPCA inspectors.

"This is the most unique case our inspectors have seen," said Cathy Rofshus, an official with the MPCA.

According to the agency, Fitzgerald acquired and installed a tank that had been removed from a gas station. The tank, about 30 years old, posed a high risk of leaking and was prohibited from being reused.

In violation of state rules, Fitzgerald installed the tank himself instead of using a licensed tank contractor. To keep the tank hidden from the MPCA, Fitzgerald buried the tank and poured a concrete pad over it. He then placed several 1,000-gallon aboveground fuel tanks as decoys on top the pad. The aboveground tanks were exempt from state rules.

MPCA tank regulations help ensure that tanks are installed and maintained in a manner that protects groundwater used for drinking, along with preventing other harm to the environment.

The hidden tank was first discovered in September 2015 when MPCA staff inspected Fitzgerald's facility. A stipulation agreement between Fitzgerald and the state was reached this February.

By hiding the tank from the MPCA, Rofshus said Fitzgerald avoided the cost of appropriate permits and tank installation by a licensed contractor.

"His biggest savings came from buying bulk fuel," she said.

Rofshus said the savings Fitzgerald incurred would likely be much higher than the $80,000 penalty.

"Our goal is compliance, not to make money off fines," Rofshus said.

The hidden tank lacked leak detection equipment, secondary containment for spills, corrosion protection, overfill protection and spill prevention equipment, the state said. These protections are critical to prevent releases.

Despite several MPCA notices to use an MPCA-certified tank contractor to remove the tank, Fitzgerald removed the tank himself and disposed of it without following state rules designed to prevent soil contamination and safety issues, the MPCA said.

Accompanying the $80,000 penalty, Fitzgerald was also cited for air quality and solid waste violations after inspectors found burn piles containing tires, plastics and other materials that cause excessive or noxious smoke. Large piles of tires and solid waste were also found at the facility. This is the third time since 2007 that the MPCA has directed Fitzgerald to take corrective action and pay a penalty for violating solid waste rules. The agency also took enforcement action against the company in 2009 for violating several rules on septic system installation.