Saturday, September 18, 1999

Home Depot
pioneers development
on toxic soil

The firm is praised for building
on contaminated land in Iwilei
under a 1997 law

By Pat Omandam


State officials are praising Home Depot Inc. for being the first participant in a new environmental program aimed at promoting redevelopment of contaminated properties around the state.

For the past two years, the nation's largest home-improvement goods store has been working with the state Health Department in a voluntary project that allowed it to build a new store on contaminated soil in Iwilei, while being exempt from future environmental problems on the site.

State Health Director Bruce Anderson said the volunteer response program allows an owner or potential purchaser of contaminated property to work with the state to investigate the site and initiate cleanup options. In this case, Home Depot spent between $2 million and $3 million to install a state-of-the-art environmental control system.

"This new law we have, the volunteer response law, had enabled us to encourage the redevelopment of areas which are contaminated and to avoid what I would consider industrial sprawl," Anderson said yesterday.

Anderson said Hawaii is very fortunate it doesn't have many areas with industrial contamination, but there are some problem sites such as Iwilei.

Over the years, petroleum from storage tanks and other facilities in Iwilei has leaked into the ground, causing an areawide problem that has discouraged redevelopment because of the uncertain costs of clean-up and the liability associated with owning contaminated property, he said.

The leaked petroleum has formed a sheen that floats on the area's groundwater, but it doesn't pose a serious threat to people until the area is developed. That's when the contaminants rise to the surface as noxious vapors which can asphyxiate people in enclosed areas, Anderson said.

Davis Bernstein, departmental program coordinator, said Home Depot officials and the state agreed in March 1988 to conduct a site assessment and install the control system.

Bernstein said the system uses 27 monitoring stations, built under the Home Depot store and parking garage, that sense petroleum vapors. Any station that detects a high concentration of vapors then triggers an underground vacuum that sucks the vapors out through a 1-foot layer of gravel placed just below the concrete foundations of the store and parking garage.

If the problem persists, the system alerts an environmental contractor, who will go on-site and correct the problem. Bernstein said as long as Home Depot maintains the system, it will be exempt from any environmental liability on the property.

Home Depot is the first participant in the program since it became law in October 1997. It received its letter of completion from the state on Sept. 3. Five other applications from owners and potential tenants are pending.

Anderson estimates there is a substantial amount of contaminated property that has the potential to be redeveloped through the program. In an island state with limited land resources, such redevelopment can make a tremendous impact on the state economy, he said.

"We hope others will see this project as an example of successful redevelopment," Anderson said.

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