SANTA FE SPRINGS — On its surface, it seemed like a good thing for this city when the state tightened rules on underground storage tanks to prevent them from leaking everything from solvents to oil into the water table. Santa Fe Springs, after all, has 539 of the subterranean tanks.
But its industry has discovered that the regulations can be expensive, and at least one company is asking for relief in the form of permission to place its underground tanks above ground.
Change in Rules
Santa Fe Springs' 8.6 square miles--85% of which is zoned for industrial and commercial use--is already dotted with 313 above-ground tanks. City officials who envisioned another 539 tanks coming to the surface decided the city needed to change its rules.
The result has been a proposed ordinance to prohibit any more tanks with flammable liquids from surfacing. That, in turn, has produced a flurry of activity by the Chamber of Commerce/Industrial League to alter the strict ordinance.
After several weeks of delay, the City Council on Thursday is to take a final vote on the proposed ordinance that it approved unanimously on first reading Sept. 12.
Acting Fire Chief Robert Wilson says the ordinance is a matter of safety. He points to statistics provided by the California State Fire Marshal Incident Reporting System that show there were seven above-ground tank fires in the state in 1984. Nationwide, Wilson said, there were 60 above-ground tank fires last year. He said he did not find any reports of underground tank fires.
Santa Fe Springs' most recent major battle with a fire involving flammable liquids occurred in July, 1981, when 13,000 55-gallon drums containing waste chemicals exploded at a storage yard on Marquardt Avenue. It took 30 firefighting units to put out the spectacular fire. The proposed ordinance, however, would not limit 55-gallon drums. It applies to tanks that hold 60 gallons or more.
Beyond safety, though, city officials say that more tanks would harm efforts to make Santa Fe Springs attractive to other businesses.
City Manager Don Powell said that a proliferation of above-ground tanks would "stop the development in the city toward a cleaner, high-end use."
"There's a transformation taking place in the city and we want to keep that going," he said.
The issue that prompted the ordinance came up when Ashland Chemical Co., at 10505 Painter Ave., came to the Santa Fe Springs Fire Department with a proposal to put its 47 underground tanks above the ground. A lawyer for Ashland said the Regional Water Quality Control Board had notified the company that it had a number of leaking underground tanks, which contain petroleum and chemical solvents.
Ashland, which also has 30 above-ground tanks, would not disclose specific cost figures. But a spokesman said that it would cost four times as much to replace its underground tanks as it would to install above-ground tanks.
If the ordinance to prohibit new above-ground tanks is defeated, Chief Wilson said the Fire Department would have to study plans for the tanks. Barring any safety hazards, he said, the department probably would grant Ashland a permit.
The city's "basic philosophy is we have enough hazards now. We want to cap the hazards," Powell said.
But members of the city's Chamber of Commerce/Industrial League have challenged the ordinance as too inflexible. The chamber, along with oil and chemical company representatives--the main industries affected by the proposed law--successfully petitioned the City Council to delay a final vote, which had been scheduled for Sept. 26. (It was later scheduled for a vote on Oct. 10, but that was delayed because only three of five council members were present.)
Take Cases Individually
At a meeting earlier this month with council members, the city manager and the acting fire chief, chamber members said the new ordinance would be costly. Some suggested amending it to approve applications for above-ground tanks on an individual basis and taking into consideration the type of flammable liquids being stored and where the companies are.
Powell responded that a selective ordinance would soon become an administrative nightmare. "How can you say yes to one tank and no to another?" he asked.
Powell also argued that the city built flexibility into the ordinance by allowing existing above-ground tanks to remain. The ordinance also allows replacing tanks, renting unused tanks and allowing as many underground tanks as needed.
"This is not a way of phasing them (the tanks) out," he said.
Chamber members maintained that the safety factors had not been demonstrated, and there were hints that some businesses might move elsewhere if Santa Fe Springs was going to be inhospitable.
Robert Mitchell, an attorney representing Ashland Chemical, said the city should appreciate industries that have made considerable investments with expectations of growth.