Since Oregon began administering the federal leaking underground storage tank program in 1988, over 7,475 petroleum releases have been reported to the Department of Environmental Quality. Approximately 6,625 of these releases have been cleaned up, leaving 850 active sites. As DEQ must focus its efforts on environmental priorities, (e.g., sites with significant groundwater contamination), some of these sites are simply not being addressed by DEQ and are part of a backlog of sites needing closure, or “no further action” letters from DEQ.
Federal funding for Oregon's Leaking UST program provides a minimum program to carry out the federal requirements, as well as the Oregon public and legislative mandate to protect human health, safety and the environment from leaking petroleum UST’s. The bulk of these resources are spent on high priority sites. Federal and state law also requires that DEQ recover all reasonable costs associated with a cleanup project, including our oversight costs.
Because of the large number of sites needing cleanup and DEQ oversight, a prioritization system is needed to adequately address these sites and make best use of limited DEQ staff resources. This system creates three categories of sites. They are:
- high environmental priority sites;
- responsible party priority sites; and
- responsible party cleanup without DEQ oversight.
High Environmental Priority Sites - We Contact You
If your site is a high environmental priority, you can expect to hear from us. As mentioned above, DEQ is focusing its limited resources primarily on those sites presenting the greatest risk to human health, safety, and the environment. To make this determination, DEQ uses a prioritization system to determine the risk the site poses. As one high priority site is completed or is determined to be lower environmental priority, the next highest priority site is selected for work. Currently, DEQ oversight and payment of oversight costs is done informally without any written agreement between the responsible party and DEQ. For these sites, as long as the cleanup is progressing and the responsible party continues to pay our oversight costs, no change in this arrangement will occur. For sites where the informal arrangement is not working, DEQ may require the responsible party to conduct cleanup and enter into a formal agreement with DEQ as part of an enforcement action. When a site is no longer a high environmental priority, DEQ may decide not to actively provide oversight. A responsible party can request that DEQ continue providing oversight by signing a voluntary agreement. The agreement will allow us to more effectively schedule our resources.
Responsible Party Priority Sites - You Contact Us
This option is available for those responsible parties who wish to proceed with cleanup and need DEQ signoff (e.g., to sell their property, obtain financing or insurance, etc.). The responsible party must sign a voluntary agreement requesting DEQ oversight and agree to pay oversight costs. The signed agreement should be sent to the appropriate regional office. These sites are handled on a first come, first serve basis and there may be a waiting list. The agreement is used as a tool for assigning sites to a project manager for review. Not signing the agreement does not release you from an obligation to pay oversight costs or to conduct cleanup. A “no further action” letter will be issued when all regulatory requirements have been met.
You are required to proceed with site investigation/cleanup and to comply with all regulatory requirements, (including all reporting requirements and payment of any oversight costs), even if you don’t sign up for priority review. You must also carefully weigh the fact that over time DEQ requirements may change, so waiting for your site to work its way up DEQ’s priority list does carry some risk. To minimize this risk, you should carefully follow all DEQ guidance associated with the UST Cleanup Rules. Eventually, your site will be at the top of our priority list and we will work on it. We expect that if a competent service provider or consultant carefully follows the rules and the guidance, there should be no unexpected surprises when your site comes up for DEQ review.
The following are some questions we are frequently asked:
What is cost recovery?
Oregon law (ORS 465.330) requires DEQ to recover all reasonable costs associated with the investigation and cleanup of contaminated sites from the responsible party(s). A responsible party is usually the owner or operator of the facility or property. However, under certain situations, previous owners or operators or anyone who by his or her acts or omissions causes, contributes to, or worsens the contamination may be considered a responsible party. If this situation applies to you, you may wish to seek legal counsel.
What DEQ costs will be assessed?
DEQ oversight costs include both direct and indirect costs. Direct costs include DEQ staff time (such as reviewing reports, preparing correspondence, technical assistance, site inspections, enforcement actions, etc.), sample analysis (if we need to collect samples for compliance purposes), and other costs specific to your cleanup project. Direct costs may also include the cost of DEQ using its contractor to respond to an emergency or to investigate and clean up the contamination when the responsible party is unwilling to do so. Indirect costs are those general management and support costs of DEQ’s cleanup program and are applied as a percentage of the direct personal services. The average hourly rate, including indirect costs, is in the range of $166 to $187.
When will I be invoiced?
Invoices are generally sent about the third week of the month, after any time has accrued during the previous month. Payment is expected within thirty days of receipt. For sites with a signed agreement, or high priority sites that have been working cooperatively with DEQ, DEQ provides a “no further action” letter when it is demonstrated that the cleanup requirements have been met and all outstanding invoices have been paid. If you have a property transaction pending with a specific closing date, it may be possible to receive an estimate of your final billing amount in order to expedite closure of your site. An estimate is generally somewhat higher than actual charges; refunds are issued within 45-60 days.
If you have any questions concerning the cost recovery process or your invoice please feel free to contact Dawn Ismerio at 503-229-5812. Should you have any questions regarding the specifics of the investigation or cleanup activities at your site, please contact the appropriate regional office. When contacting us, please refer to the site with the DEQ file number (file number is located on the invoice and on all correspondence to you) and the site name.