needs to remove polluting gas holder

As the University touts its recently erected Elmer L. Andersen Library, which houses the University archives, it has seriously neglected to follow through on plans to clean up groundwater contamination near the library’s West Bank foundation. Monetary bickering between the University and Reliant Energy Minnegasco over how to most effectively prevent damage to the archives building and who should pay for it has led to months of inaction. Because of the prolonged delays in decontaminating the site, at least two of the building’s curators got sick after hydrogen sulfide permeated the air near a mechanical room, into which the contaminated water was seeping.
To protect the archives, Minnegasco wants to install a vertical well. University officials — and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency — prefer to erect a more costly horizontal well, which they consider more effective. Regardless of who funds the majority of this project, the University should avoid a quick fix and instead perform a thorough cleanup now by removing the contamination’s source: the base of a gas holder. The land would require a much more comprehensive cleanup anyway, as the University plans to develop student housing directly above the contaminated ground by 2003.
Minneapolis Gas Works — a former division of Minnegasco — built the gas holder in 1893 to store raw and purified gas. The University purchased the land west of the Mississippi River in 1959 and, assisted by a lack of foresight, failed to remove the base of the holder when they cleaned up the site for University use.
After realizing it would have to clean up its West Bank property, the University enrolled in the pollution agency’s Voluntary Investigation and Clean-up Program in September 1996. The program offered the University technical assistance and liability insurance.
Twenty months ago, the University agreed with the MPCA to construct the horizontal well. The funding debate and technical differences that has led to the stall has caused the agency to consider legal enforcement by classifying the area as a Superfund site, which would promote a quick cleanup. Still, the University and the pollution control agency have apparently ignored the long-term impacts Anderson library will have on the land and the flow of groundwater.
University geologist Calvin Alexander is familiar with the project and describes both the University’s and Minnegasco’s proposals as short-sighted and argues that without total cleanup, contaminated ground water might again leak into the archives endangering the safety of employees and library materials.
Applying temporary Band-Aids will not eliminate the potential and current problems the gas holder poses. The University should expand its cleanup plan beyond a horizontal well and immediately begin removal of the gas holder’s base to ensure the grounds are made environmentally-sound for the proposed student housing.