Tweeti Blancett, owner of Step Back Inn in Aztec poses for a portrait, on Sept. 23 in Aztec.
Tweeti Blancett, owner of Step Back Inn in Aztec poses for a portrait, on Sept. 23 in Aztec. (Daily Times file photo)

AZTEC — Four wells drilled to monitor petroleum leaked into the ground from underground storage tanks are still undergoing testing by the state’s Environment Department.

Some of the leaks started decades ago and the tests show contamination remains, said Jim Winchester, the Environment Department’s public information officer.

The Petroleum Storage Tank Bureau has active monitoring of groundwater conditions at two sites on North Main Avenue, Permco Aztec at Main and Chaco and Sundial market #2 at 417 N. Main Ave. 

The bureau is also running tests at two sites on Aztec Boulevard, Circle K #469, at 101 Aztec Blvd. and 7-2-11 Food Store #38, at 201 Aztec Blvd.

Bureau chief Dana Bahar said recent testing confirmed that all four have yet to meet ground-water-quality standards by the state, but she believes all four are on track to be cleared of any threat of contamination. The question is, when?

“All these sites did at one point have a release from a petroleum tank, most of them in the early 1990s,” Bahar said. “Per regulations, they have to be investigated and cleaned up until all contaminants are to standard (acceptable levels). We are aware of these sites. We feel there’s no immediate threat to human health or to the environment.

“Should we see something in our sampling, we will take action.”

The 7-2-11 Food Store release was identified in 1998. Samples are taken from those monitoring wells every three months, with the most recent in January. The Circle K had a release recorded in 1993. The last sampling was taken by the bureau in 2011.

“We are working to do additional monitoring (at Circle K) this year,” Bahar said. “We will replace two of three monitoring wells because they were lost, possibly due to paving over them.”

The Sundial gas station was most recently sampled in November of last year, Bahar said. A release was recorded in 1992, the cause of a lawsuit brought against Dial Oil by Linn and Tweeti Blancett, owners of the Step Back Inn across Aztec Boulevard from Sundial. The Blancetts recently settled a multi-year case against Dial. Sundial is on quarterly groundwater monitoring.

Stuart Faith, an Albuquerque-based environmental engineer, investigated the Sundial leak for the Blancetts for 10 years. He said that monitoring, as opposed to active clean-up of leaks has become the norm, influenced by economic pressures rather than negligence.

“Sometime in the late 1990s, the Environment Department was not making enough money to pay for all the clean-ups. The $15 (million) to $16 million a year, called the Corrective Action Fund, was insufficient to pay for all the clean-up at the time,” Faith said. “What’s happened since, the state has adopted a kind of risk-based approach. In other words if you’re not eating it or drinking it or breathing it, they’re not going to clean it up. They’re only going to monitor it. ... I think most people would agree that they would rather see it cleaned up, but the fiscal reality is that it’s quite expensive.”

A site called Permco Aztec had a release in 1987, Bahar said. It was last tested in January.

“All we’re talking about is (monitoring) ground water contamination so that clean water quality standards are met,” Bahar said. “Ground water can be as shallow as four or as much as 20 feet deep. Aztec’s ground (water) level is shallow.”

Despite the length of these sites’ clean-up process, Bahar is confident they will ultimately be meet the standards.

“We’re cleaning up the ground water in the soil as a resource protection, so in the future this water is available for use,” Bahar said. “There is no impact to or threat to human health or the environment. We are monitoring to make sure that is the case.”

James Fenton covers Aztec and Bloomfield for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4621 and Follow him @fentondt on Twitter.