"These tanks were all tested tight," Dave Simendinger said. "The pipes were tested tight."
But the court ordered Dave Simendinger to rip the 30-year-old, single-walled tanks out of the ground at his Gulf gas station in Essex Junction. The state is worried these huge fiberglass drums may have been leaking for months.
"I think they've got this agenda to get rid of single-walled tanks," Simendinger said.
"It's not about the tanks. The tanks were really just in the way of our ability to get at the contaminated soil and get it out as quickly as possible," said Sarah Bartlett of the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources.
The investigation comes after business owners at a neighboring shopping plaza reported smelling a strong odor of gasoline in late May. The gas had made its way down to the plaza's storm drains. Simendinger says it was a small spill from a fuel delivery, but the state thinks more is going on underground.
"The estimate of 2,600 gallons is a worst-case scenario. It's very difficult to measure," Bartlett said.
So the state must base its calculations on the owner's inventory records and 2600 gallons are unaccounted for. But Simendinger says the gas isn't missing. He blames the discrepancy on inaccurate calibration of his pumps, claiming over time the extra gallons went into customer gas tanks, not the ground. The state also allows fuel dealers to be short 130 gallons per tank plus 1 percent of their sales. So based on those numbers he puts the leak closer to 50 gallons.
"That's always been my question; where's the gas? They've drilled this site up like Swiss cheese and they have not been able to find anything but dissolved gasoline in the groundwater," Simendinger said.
A sample of groundwater taken from right where the tanks were removed had a slight odor of gasoline, but if there was major spill you would see separation and all we could see is groundwater.
"Once it's out of the tanks and into the surrounding material-- the soil and the groundwater-- it's going to be very difficult to really ever know exactly how much it was," Bartlett said.
The state says much more testing will need to be done to get concrete answers. Simendinger's company, Wesco Oil, is paying for the tank removal. And the state is paying for the soil excavation and disposal out of the petroleum cleanup fund. The state would not comment on whether Simendinger could face any penalties.