Petersen, Culipher Clash on How to Manage Tank Farm Spills

Petersen prefers a legislative approach while Culipher promotes private options.

A much maligned tank farm on Pickett Road in Fairfax City has muddied up the race for Virginia State Senate District 34 weeks before the Nov. 8 election.

Democrat and incumbent Sen. Chap Petersen told voters that, unlike his opponent, he would continue to use legislation to fight environmental violations at Pickett Road Terminal Complex in a video released by Petersen's campaign Tuesday. 

"That's why you elect me, that's why I'm here, folks," he said in the video footage from a Mantua Civic Association meeting on Sept. 28.

At the same meeting, Republican Gerarda Culipher urged voters to consider private options, like purchasing the tank farm property, rather than turning to more government regulation. 

"I will happily work with the citizens of Mantua to explore all private options, to see if a more compatible business or organization might be interested in purchasing the land before turning to the government," she told Patch on Tuesday.

Mantua civic association members paused when Culipher suggested the residents find a way, a loan, or fund program or philanthropist, to buy the property at the September meeting.

"We pay $20 a year in dues, our budgets aren't quite there yet," said one member of the civic association.

"You're talking about something that's violating environmental safety laws," Petersen countered. "Why would we reward them with a $25 million payout for their continued violation of the law?"

Culipher later stressed that she's not opposed to the tank farm's relocation and doesn't think highly of the business' environmental violations. Instead she's against making the "regulations on the tank farm so burdensome that it will be forced to close shop."

"I am urging us all to brainstorm for ways come to a private agreement that will satisfy both the owners of the tank farm and the citizens of Mantua," she said.

Petersen stood by his belief that sometimes assembly action is necessary when it comes to staunching environmental hazards and protecting voters.

Earlier this year, Virginia approved a that forces the tank farm to meet safety requirements for newer above-ground fuel storage tanks by 2021. The bill updates modern environmental standards to tanks built before 1992.

"Hopefully, the cost of upgrading the facilities (estimated at $10 million) will incentivize the oil companies to eventually sell the site and find a location in a non-residential area," Petersen said in a .

The tank farm has had only one major spill since 1980 but has experienced minor problems over the past four years.

Late last January, one of four companies that use the tank farm discovered a diesel fuel leak on the property. It was contained within the complex.

Last August, a fuel tanker flipped over at Pickett and Main Street while leaving the farm. The incident caused heavy traffic delays. City police, rescue and cleanup crews stopped the mild fuel spill and removed debris from the intersection.

In 1990, an underground leak caused about 250,000 gallons of diesel oil, gasoline and other chemicals to contaminate the surrounding neighborhoods, according to news reports. The cleanup cost hundreds of millions of dollars and troubled Mantua residents for years.


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