Looks vs. pollution weighed in Silverthorne Sav-o-Mat gas station dilemma | SummitDaily.com

Looks vs. pollution weighed in Silverthorne Sav-o-Mat gas station dilemma

Summit Daily/Mark Fox

Silverthorne town officials are at odds with the owner of the Sav-o-Mat gas station over how to clean up leaking chemicals while adhering to town law that requires bringing a property up to code when above-ground structures are added.

Council members feel the owner, Buzz Calkins, is dragging his feet while Calkins maintains the town’s onerous rules are to blame for the delay. Meanwhile, toxic benzene is escaping from fuel tanks underground. The substance has yet to reach nearby wells or the Blue River, but officials are concerned it may be just a matter of time.

Contamination well above approved state levels was discovered on the site in 2009, at which point Calkins wrote a corrective plan with state officials and brought it before the town council, he said. Implementing the plan has been hindered because it includes installing an above-ground storage shed. The town asks the entire site to be brought to code when new structures are added.

Calkins said he approached the town separately about site improvements in 2007, but found the cost-to-benefit ratio prohibitive. He moved the “facelift” project down his list. He owns more than 50 gas stations from New Mexico to Wyoming and has other ongoing projects.

“We’ll be the first ones to admit it looks awful,” he said of the station, a fixture in the town since the 1970s. “It’s an eyesore of all eyesores.”

In the absence of a satisfactory site plan outlining necessary updates, town staff and council members feel they’re at a stand-still with the clean-up process. Community development director Mark Leidal said his office has been waiting for 18 months for the plan to be processed. An incomplete plan was submitted a year ago, but did not move forward, he said.

Council members are considering taking action against the owner, and will consider their options at a 6 p.m. meeting Thursday. The meeting starts with an executive session to consult with their attorney and will likely end with a publicly announced decision.

Calkins said he’s trying to play by the town’s rules, even if he finds them prohibitive. Never before has a remediation operation been tied with a site plan to leverage site improvements, he said.

“There are typically not a lot of hoops to go through,” he said, adding that he intends to submit a revised site plan early this week. Calkins’ plan still asks for some variances from town code, such as permitting the sign to remain larger than dimensions outlined in town code so the station can be competitive with name-brand stations closer to Interstate 70.

“(The town council is) trying to adhere to a code that’s unlike anything else in the state, or the country, for that matter,” he said.

Remediation is being funded by the state Department of Labor and Employment Division of Oil and Public Safety at an estimated $1.3 million. Work has proceeded on adjacent town property as of December, but there’s not been a go-ahead to do clean-up on site.

Council members expressed frustration at what they see as Calkins’ apparent unwillingness to cooperate. There’s been no direct communication between Silverthorne staff and Calkins since he appeared at a town council work session in January, Leidal said.

But at the same time council members want to enforce code, they said they’re aware Silverthorne citizens are calling for them to address the clean-up instead of holding out on beautification.

“I want to urge you to do whatever you can, as quickly as you can, to stop the spread of this,” resident Jim Edwards said during last week’s regular meeting. “If benzene gets into our water supply … this town will never be the same.”

Mayor Dave Koop said he’s concerned about the site beyond its beauty or lack thereof – he’s wondering if there are more problems that must be addressed than meet the eye.

“We’ve been more than accommodating,” he said. “We agreed we wouldn’t hinder remediation … as long as the source of the problem was addressed.”

Several options are available to council members, such as:

• Continuing the wait for a site plan;

• Waiving the site plan requirement to allow remediation work to proceed (they denied issuing a waiver when the option came before them in November);

• Block access to the site via town property;

• Revoke the business license for not complying with state remediation requirements; and

• Disallow business on the premise that it’s unlawful for anyone to directly or indirectly pollute or contaminate waters, streams, properties or equipment that could cause the town’s water to become impure.

Council member Ann-Marie Sandquist said Calkins may be waiting to see if the council will play hardball and revoke his business license. She said he has expressed doubts they will.

Calkins said there’s been mutual frustration between the parties since conversations began for the two projects, but he doesn’t want to add animosity on either side – it’s not productive, he said.

Council members have discussed the possibility of acquiring the Sav-o-Mat property using urban renewal terms, but town attorney Jerry Dahl advised against acquiring such a liability.

“You get both things. You get the (state) fund and the liability,” he said. “But you have to be sure the fund covers (the problem).”

Among discussions about which options to pursue, council member Bruce Butler said he wanted to hold off on making a decision until he had more information.

“Before I start throwing dynamite in the pond … I want to understand how this yarn ball is going to unravel,” he said.

Dahl is investigating the implications and feasibility of each action prior to this week’s meeting.

“I know we all feel we’ve been black-balled into a corner and he’s controlling us like puppets, but what is most important here?” council member Dave Anderson said, asserting the opinion shared by several other council members that getting remediation underway may be higher priority than beautifying the site.

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