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Not what they wanted to find

By Staff | Jul 14, 2013

Construction on the Highway 169 reconstruction project came to a screeching halt on July 3 especially the work on the new roundabout at the Seventh Street intersection.

And, the stoppage was not due to the weather or the Fourth of July holiday.

Instead, contaminated soil was the culprit.

“They started to find some soil contaminated with petroleum product at the Sixth Street intersection first,” Blue Earth City Administrator Kathy Bailey says. “But that was relatively minor and we could deal with it.”

Then, a large vein of the contamination was discovered at the Seventh Street corner.

“It was a high enough level that it caused a halt to work in that area,” Bailey says. “In fact, the ground was so saturated that the people testing it in the trench had to leave it or be overcome with fumes.”

Bolton and Menk engineer Rick Burmeister says the construction crew had to wait for hazmat suits and respirators to arrive to continue testing the area.

“It took almost a week for the test results to come back,” he says. “The contaminated soil was in the trench that was being dug to install the new storm water pipes.”

Crews started excavating the contaminated soil on Thursday and placing it on large sheets of black plastic. It will be trucked to a special landfill near Austin.

Meanwhile, Bailey is trying to find some financial assistance to help handle the problem.

“It is the city’s obligation to take care of this contamination, since it happened where we were putting in city-owned utilities,” she explains. “We think this could be a significant extra expense.”

The city administrator has been in contact with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the Department of Commerce for the necessary paperwork, filing of forms and applications for aid.

“I think we have most of the forms and permits filled out,” she says. “And that has included a map of other potential sites of contamination.”

Bailey says she has learned that at one time there was a gas station on all four corners of the Seventh Street/Grove Street (now Highway 169) intersection.

And, she adds, there once were gas stations on nearly all of the intersections along Highway 169.

“I think we might find some more contamination at Fifth, Fourth and Third streets, possibly,” she says. “We may wind up paying for things now that our predecessors did years ago.”

Burmeister agrees but isn’t sure to what extent more contaminated soil will be found.

“We only have to deal with the soil that we are removing for trenches for the utilities to go into,” he says. “We don’t have to test the whole intersection, only where we dig.”