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February 26, 2014

Water board reaches $4.8 million settlement over TravelCenters of America in Merced County, elsewhere

The State Water Resources Control Board on Wednesday announced a $4.8 million settlement with TravelCenters of America in connection with fuel tank storage leak-prevention violations at six locations, including three sites in Merced County.

The State Water Resources Control Board on Wednesday announced a $4.8 million settlement with TravelCenters of America in connection with fuel tank storage leak-prevention violations at six locations, including three sites in Merced County.

The board filed its complaint against the corporation in 2010 in Alameda County Superior Court, citing inadequate leak-prevention for underground fuel tanks in Merced and Kern counties, according to prior statements from the water board.

The Ohio-based corporation operates three businesses in Merced County at Livingston, Santa Nella and Los Banos, according to the 2010 complaint.

Store managers in Merced County referred questions to their corporate headquarters in Westlake, Ohio. Company officials could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Cris Carrigan, director of enforcement for the state water board, said the company was using substandard leak-detection equipment.

“There were ground, water and soil tests conducted and there was no real evidence of any substantial leaks,” Carrigan told the Sun-Star on Wednesday. “But they did not have the proper leak-detection equipment in place at the time that would have made that clear.”

Under the settlement terms, the company will pay $1 million in civil penalties to the state water board and an additional $800,000 to the board, environmental agencies in Merced and Kern counties, and the Western States Project to reimburse investigation costs, the board said in a news release.

Another $1 million in civil penalties were suspended for a five-year period and will not be collected, Carrigan said, if the company has no additional leak-prevention violations as outlined in the judgment. “That’s to hold their feet to the fire to ensure there are no additional actions needed in the future,” Carrigan said.

The company will also receive a $2 million credit for environmental protection upgrades at 13 facilities in California, including those in Merced County, according to the news release.

“Those upgrades will enhance environmental protections to levels that exceed current compliance,” Carrigan said. “The enhanced compliance is not legally required, but will provide much greater environmental protections.”

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