By Donald Wittkowski
Groundwater and soil contamination have been detected at an abandoned former gas station that has been an eyesore along Ocean City’s main gateway since it closed down five years ago.
Synergy Environmental Inc., a Cherry Hill consulting firm overseeing the (old Exxon) site at Ninth Street and Bay Avenue, said in a July 20 letter sent to surrounding property owners that the contamination consists of “petroleum-related constituents” that apparently stem from the station’s former operation.
But Synergy also noted, “The current soil and groundwater data indicates that the site poses no public health threats to the nearby communities.”
Synergy added that groundwater contamination has been detected in levels that exceed New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection standards. The contamination is being monitored by taking periodic samples, with the results sent to the DEP for its inspection, according to Synergy.
Synergy said that the groundwater contamination extends about 260 feet radially from the boundaries of the old gas station property, which occupies a prominent spot along the Ninth Street corridor, the main artery in and out of town.
“The environmental investigation is proceeding in accordance with NJDEP requirements,” the letter says. “Routine groundwater sampling is performed periodically. The proposed remedy for this property is to monitor the natural decrease in groundwater concentrations through periodic sampling.”
Contaminants found in the groundwater are “petroleum-related constituents which potentially result from gasoline station operations,” Synergy said.
Soil contamination has been found as well at the site, but an investigation is continuing to determine the extent and concentration, Synergy said.
David Robinson, a Synergy senior associate who is supervising the environmental work, could not be reached Thursday for more details about the site’s cleanup plan.
Doug Bergen, a spokesman for Mayor Jay Gillian, said Ocean City “fully supports the state Department of Environmental Protection’s efforts to hold the owners accountable and to make sure no contamination is left behind.”
Bergen noted that the investigation of the Exxon station’s contamination originally dates back to 1989. Since then, the state has been monitoring the site for 27 years and never found any health threat to the public or marine life, even when the gas station was still in business, he said.
The Ocean City real estate firm Keller Williams has plans to buy the former Exxon site and redevelop it into a new multimillion-dollar office for the company.
Eric Booth, a sales agent for Keller Williams, said Thursday he was not aware of Synergy’s July 20 letter about the contamination. However, he said Keller Williams still wants to buy and redevelop the site after the contamination is cleaned up by the current owner.
“Once they deliver a clean site, I don’t see a problem,” Booth said.
The property remains under contract to Keller Williams. Terms of the deal require that the site must be cleaned up before Keller Williams closes on the deal, Booth said.
Synergy’s letter was sent to property owners and tenants within 200 feet of the Exxon site. The letter notes that DEP regulations require the public to be notified periodically “about certain environmental work taking place.”
“We hope the work we are doing will progress smoothly and, in the end, restore the property as a valuable asset to the neighborhood,” the letter says. “In the meantime, we appreciate your concerns and your patience and pledge to conduct our work efficiently and as responsible members of the community.”
Synergy wrote the letter on behalf of 903 Bay Ave. Ocean City LLC, the owner of the former Exxon site. City officials have complained for years about the blighted condition of the property. They fear it creates a bad impression of Ocean City for tourists entering town along the Ninth Street corridor.
Exxon is one of three decrepit, former gas stations lining the Ninth Street entryway. Across the street from the Exxon site are abandoned BP and Getty stations.
The old BP was demolished recently after City Council approved a $475,000 bond ordinance to buy the site and transform it into landscaped open space and parking.
With the BP now gone, the old Exxon and Getty stations are the next targets for demolition.
The city has disclosed it has been in talks to acquire the Getty property and turn it into landscaped open space, too.