To avoid liability suits involving land contaminated with hazardous waste, the city council is studying strict laws requiring thorough examination of property prior to purchase.
"I want a clear restrictions set up so we don't mistakenly drag the city into some financial black hole," said Councilman Greg Brown.Requirements of the Environmental Protection Agency have placed cities in a vulnerable position to lawsuits, he said.
Murray must be careful in purchasing land to ensure it is free of hazardous waste. The city must also scrutinize landfills where waste cleaned up from Murray sites is eventually deposited. New ordinances could make the cities liable in both cases, said Brown.
The city is involved in a messy situation over land across the street from the city hall, 5028 S. State, where hazardous waste was discovered.
Two years ago, the Murray City Redevelopment Agency purchased the property previously owned by Quality Oil. Unfortunately, after purchasing the property, the city found a "gooey" substance deep in the ground - residue from oil that had leaked out over the years from underground gasoline tanks. The city is now responsible for bringing the area up the EPA regulations. The clean up cost could be as high as $500,000 - half the purchase price, said Brown.
Because the city feels a responsibility to clean up the area for the safety of Murray citizens, efforts are in progress. However, the city has filed a federal lawsuit against Quality Oil, contending the company, which owned the property for 30 years, should absorb the cleanup cost. The suit is still pending.
The State Street property was purchased by the city as part of a redevelopment project with the intent of building a professional office complex. The new 5th Circuit Court building is adjacent to it. But the city will now wait until the hazardous waste is eliminated before building.
Occasionally, as part of real estate negotiations, the redevelopment agency will purchase land, own it for a matter of minutes, then sell it to another owner.
"It's apparent that if you buy property and own it - even for moments - and hazardous waste is later discovered, the EPA can go after you for the cleanup cost. All previous owners become liable," said Brown.
Taking the approach of prevention instead of cure, Murray City Power is one of the few public utilities in Utah to eliminate equipment in its electrical system contaminated with polychlorinated biphenols, also known as PCBs. Because it was determined that PCBs can cause cancer at certain exposures, the utility company, over the past three years, has replaced all questionable electrical transformers.
Most of the PCB-contaminated shells were sent to out-of-state landfills for disposal. "The EPA regulations do not absolve you of responsibility for PCB-contaminated shells," explains Gary Merrill, Murray City Power assistant general manager.
"We make very sure the disposal companies meet stringent requirements."
Merrill commends the city council for "its prudence in preparing for the future. Hazardous waste will become more even more an issue in the years to come."