- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 1, 2014

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - State environmental officials had tallied more than 45,500 aboveground storage tanks as a Wednesday deadline to register them approached.

Despite the deadline, the Department of Environmental Protection expects to register thousands more, even after Wednesday. It’s the first major cutoff date in a new law aimed at pinpointing tanks, regulating them and protecting public water supplies.

“If you’re in the process of attempting to register, or we’re working with you to get you registered, we’re not going to run out with enforcement and start hammering on people,” said Scott Mandirola, director of the state’s Division of Water and Waste Management.

The law follows a January spill that contaminated 300,000 people’s tap water for days. It includes new tank registrations, inspections and other requirements. Many specifics are spelled out in proposed agency rules.

A small portion of tanks - about 5.7 percent - are close enough to water sources to be considered a threat to water supplies, officials said. The state had estimated 50,000 to 80,000 tanks could match the registration requirements: hold at least 1,320 gallons, be at least 90 percent above ground and sit in a fixed spot for at least 60 days.

In Charleston on Wednesday, tank owners - from natural gas producers to coal companies- made it clear they have questions about what’s next under the law.

At the department’s daylong stakeholder meeting, owners wondered how much registering tanks would cost annually. Mandirola said one flat fee paid by owners would cover the whole program, which could cost as much as couple million dollars.

The fee amount hasn’t been determined and needs lawmakers’ approval. The department hasn’t added staff or resources to deal with the law yet. Officials are waiting to see how many tanks exist so they can set fees, which may cost more for tanks that could pose a greater risk.

“You’re not talking thousands of dollars,” Mandirola said about the fee amount.

The tank rule in discussion Wednesday will be officially filed in December. That gives lawmakers time to consider it during the 60-day legislative session starting in January.

In a separate proposed rule, state officials sought to ease initial inspections for tanks that don’t hold hazardous materials, contain less than 50,000 gallons or aren’t near water supplies. First inspections are due Jan. 1. The proposal will be discussed at an Oct. 9 public meeting.

An informational session on the tank law also is being held Thursday in Martinsburg.


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