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Contamination issues at former auto shop site date back to 1993


TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - More than 20 years after soil contamination was first discovered at the site of this shuttered gas station and auto shop, its last tanks are going to be decommisisoned and testing completed. Margie Watt just wants to be proud of her West Linn neighborhood.

The Willamette resident has many ideas for how to improve the area, several of which center on the property that formerly housed Russ Auto Care before it closed in 2014. The vacant property at 1590 S.W. Willamette Falls Drive has become what Watt calls “an eyesore,” and in late 2015 she decided to do some background research on the site.

What she found was alarming.

Watts’ digging eventually led her to a Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) file, which showed that the property had been a “Leaking Underground Storage Tank” (LUST) site since 1993.

The site is located at the edge of the Willamette business district but is surrounded by homes and apartments.

According to DEQ Natural Resource Specialist Bob McCoy, “significant contamination” was discovered in 1993 when gasoline tanks on the east side of the property were decommissioned and found to have leaks. A newer set of tanks on the west side of the property are inactive but remain in place underground, a cause for continued concern at DEQ.

“There may or may not be contamination on the (west) side,” McCoy said.

The uncertainty dates all the way back to 2011, when McCoy performed an inspection at the site and found that while the newer tanks contained fuel, all monitoring equipment had been turned off. Thus, there was no way of knowing if another leak had occurred.

The DEQ ordered both the property owner, Elizabeth Stein, and the business owner, Russ Leinbach, to address the issue, but McCoy said those repeated requests were ignored. Over the next five years, a number of citations and fines were issued, and in 2013 Leinbach pleaded guilty to a single misdemeanor.

However, it looks like at long last the remaining tanks at the site are in line to be decommissioned — a process that will reveal whether any leakage occurred.

“As of now, we don’t think any tanks have leaked,” McCoy said. “But we don’t know for sure.”

Watt, for her part, simply felt this was an issue that deserved public attention.

“People should know this,” she said. “I want to know how serious the contamination is. Who is taking care of it and why is this file still open?”

According to McCoy, leakages can cause serious environmental damage.

“Fuel going into the ground can do a lot of things,” he said. “It gets in the groundwater. If West Linn was ever cut off from City water, and tried pumping ground water, it might end up with gasoline in it. ... Vapors can be a concern if it’s near enough to the surface.

“Once it’s out of the tank, it’s not controlled anymore.”

Since the site is now vacant, the tanks in question no longer contain any fuel. What DEQ must investigate is whether there was ever a leak when they were in use, up through 2014 when the business closed. That investigation will take place when the tanks are decommissioned by an outside party hired by Stein.

“Back in October or November, (Stein) had engaged a man to decommission the tanks,” McCoy said. “I’m thinking probably in the next 30 to 60 days, it should be resolved.”

He added, “I’m someone who usually gets things done quickly. It’s hard to have it go on for years.”

Watt, meanwhile, has begun to envision a brighter future for the property once the fuel tanks are long gone.

“It could be a fun outdoor pub,” she said. “Or even a fun market, a hip deli — something interesting.

“And I would love to see the grounds cared for, no matter what it is.”

Patrick Malee can be reached at 503-636-1281 Ext. 106 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..