A leaking gasoline tank in Old West Lawrence could have contaminated groundwater and soil underneath more than two city blocks, state officials said Wednesday.
The announcement came after days of soil samples near the Presto Phillips 66 gas station, Ninth and Louisiana streets, estimated that gasoline from leaking underground tanks flowed east toward Ohio Street and beyond.
Whatever gas sits dormant under homes in the neighborhood may take more than a year to fully clean, officials said.
"Whatever is going to happen, it's not going to be an immediate thing," said Dan Kellerman, an incident manager for the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.
Kellerman and other KDHE officials gathered on Wednesday in Lawrence to answer questions from Old West Lawrence residents.
So far, the state has pumped more than 30,000 gallons of gas-laden water and 1,700 gallons of pure fuel from trenches near where the underground tanks were, Kellerman said. The tanks were removed earlier this week.
But officials urged residents not to panic. The leaking gas should not affect top soil or the water system. Gas fumes stopped appearing in the sewer system this week.
State crews dug seven wells in the area to monitor gas levels, and officials said that they would continue to take soil samples and remove any excess liquids until the area was clean.
To pay for the cleanup, the station will be allowed to use the Kansas Petroleum Storage Tank trust fund, a taxpayer-funded account that pays for state cleanups of tank leaks.
The account, funded by a 1 cent gas tax, has a $1 million cap, although officials said a cleanup rarely costs that much.
But residents at the meeting were also concerned about gas trapped in the soil resurfacing during heavy rains and entering their homes.
When leaked gasoline entered the basement of 838 La. on April 30, the furnace ignited a fire that destroyed the home, which contained five apartments.
The homeowners, Lelon Capps and Kandis Capps Taylor, along with Curtis Johnson, a tenant in the destroyed home, filed a petition in Douglas County Court seeking damages against Presto Oil Inc., the owners of the station.
The petition claims that storing the leaking tanks was an abnormally dangerous activity, and that Johnson suffered loss of property and psychological damage because of the fuel-driven blaze.
The suit also claims that the Capps' business also suffered in the fire.
"Capps have suffered a loss of revenue, loss of profits ... because they are unable to collect rent from their apartment building," the petition said.
The lawsuit doesn't ask for a specific damage amount. The home is valued at $172,700, according to 2005 county records.
Todd Brendmoen, a Presto representative, could not be reached for comment.
During the meeting, KDHE officials told Matthew Culp, attorney for the plaintiffs, that the state would not compensate residents for lost property valuation because of the leaked gas.
"It's the station's responsibility," said KDHE storage tank manager Randy Carlson.
The station is required to carry a $1 million insurance policy, and any property losses or devaluations would come out of that, Carlson said.
Great American Custom provides insurance for the station.
Gary Blackburn, a KDHE remediation director, said that the possibility of gas resurfacing during heavy rains existed.
"There is a possible fire risk," Blackburn said.
To help combat any possible fire risk, officials said that in the coming days the state will distribute basement gas detectors to all residents in the affected area.