MTBE cleanup starts now, San Juan says
Calling it an emergency, the San Juan Capistrano City Council approved installation of a system to clean a fuel additive from city groundwater.
There was little discussion preceding the 5-0 vote Thursday night.
The cleanup will be done without a bidding process based on its emergency status, according to a report from City Attorney Omar Sandoval. The city said it has detected the additive MtBE in "all of its wells," constituting an emergency condition. The report says an emergency condition exists if the city must act to "safeguard life, health or property."
The city has been in talks with Chevron for about two years to decide on the cleanup of MtBE from city groundwater. Chevron has proposed a solution that would require the company to access city land, but the city has refused access over disagreements about how the cleanup should proceed.
MtBE spilled into city soil years ago from two Chevron gas stations. The additive was discovered two years ago in city groundwater.
The city's groundwater-recovery plant has been hobbled by the council's decision not to pump water from wells that contain MtBE.
The city has been supplementing its water supply by purchasing water from the Metropolitan Water District.
The amount of MtBE found in the groundwater is lower than the maximum amount allowed under state law. In high enough quantities, MtBE gives water the smell of turpentine. The chemical's long-term health effects are unclear.
City Councilman Sam Allevato said it has taken so long to resolve the cleanup issue that he is reconsidering his opposition to a lawsuit against Chevron.
Mayor Lon Uso said, "Chevron has not stepped up and been responsible."
Chevron spokesman Sean Comey said the groundwater is safe to drink.
"The city, the county and the state have been saying and continue to say that the water is safe," he said. "We've taken responsibility for the spill, and we are ready to take the appropriate action."
But he described negotiations with the city as a "long and cumbersome process. Longer and more cumbersome" than other similar negotiations.
The city plans to use granulated activated carbon to clean the water of MtBE, according to the staff report.