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Our Insights

The Seekers of the Golden Certificate of Completion

November 15, 2018

By Paul Moore, P.G.
Senior Geologist, Environmental Division

This article was originally published in Currents, POWER’s quarterly Environmental newsletter.

Our journey began in August 2007, studying Phase I and II Environmental Site Assessment (ESA) reports for a HVAC parts manufacturing business in Buda, Texas (pronounced BYOO-dǝ).

The owners of the company were ready to sell their business and retire, and they had an interested buyer waiting in the wings. The findings in these buyer-initiated ESA reports, however, created a problem.

Trichloroethylene (TCE), classified by the EPA as a carcinogenic chemical, was identified in the groundwater at approximately 35 feet of depth. Although the ESAs did indicate that TCE, a chlorinated solvent, was used as a parts degreaser in the manufacturing process at the property, they did not identify the source of the TCE release.

Pump it up. POWER’s field staff conduct an aquifer test from an affected groundwater-bearing unit.

The ESA findings led to numerous provisions between the two parties, which ultimately hinged on the sellers’ agreement to enter the property into the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) Voluntary Cleanup Program (VCP), a brownfields program to remediate the affected environmental media to TCEQ’s risk standards. Without it, the sellers would be subject to enforcement actions and the liability for cleanup could extend to future lenders and landowners: a scenario that would likely have been a deal-breaker for the buyer and any potential buyers in the future.

Engaged by the sellers to help them obtain VCP eligibility for the four-acre property, we knew our goal was the “golden” Certificate of Completion. This deed certification would release both parties from all liability to the State for cleanup of areas covered by the certificate. Without it, the environmental liability could run well over a million dollars.

In December 2007, we submitted the required VCP application and supporting documentation to the TCEQ Remediation Division.

While awaiting TCEQ’s eligibility determination, our client put us in touch with a former employee who was very familiar with the property’s history, from the beginning of operations up to the sale. According to the former employee, an estimated 55 gallons of TCE were released to a concrete-lined floor sump a decade before; but was not discovered until the following day. Now we had a lead as to where to look for the source of the TCE.

In late January 2008, we received the welcome news from the TCEQ that the property was eligible for the VCP. With the approved eligibility in hand, we developed a plan of attack as to how we would conduct an affected property assessment under the TCEQ Texas Risk Reduction Program (TRRP) rule (risk-based corrective action).

Up close and personal. A drilling rig staged within feet from the manufacturing building is used to reach the second and much deeper affected groundwater-bearing unit.

The work plans we prepared and submitted to the TCEQ described the field activities to be conducted, environmental media to be sampled, the target Chemicals of Concern (COCs), sampling rational and procedures, and the relevant analytical methods to be utilized in the affected property assessment.

Shortly after receiving word of each work plan approval, my colleague, POWER geologist Rob von Czoernig and I began the two-year process of implementing each phase of the assessment.

While on our expeditions, we collected surface and subsurface soil samples from exploratory borings, installed single and multi-casted monitoring wells, collected groundwater samples from two separate groundwater-bearing units (GWBUs) and conducted multiple in-situ aquifer tests (slug tests and pump tests) to determine the Groundwater Resource Classifications for both GWBUs.

As expected, the analytical and aquifer testing results indicated that affected environmental media were limited to the northern half of the property, and the only COC identified as exceeding its critical protective concentration level (PCL) was TCE.

With all the results, an affected property assessment report (APAR) was submitted to the TCEQ in February 2010.

Following an additional two years of monitoring reports and pump test data, the TCEQ acknowledged in January 2012 that the assessment of environmental media at the affected property had been completed. The next step was to submit a Response Action Plan (RAP), putting us one step closer to getting our hands on the “golden” Certificate of Completion.

Upon receiving approval of the RAP from the TCEQ in September 2012, we began two years of response action groundwater monitoring. The response actions outlined in the RAP proved to be on target as the results indicated that TCE concentrations were stable at some source area monitoring wells and had dropped below the critical PCL at other source area monitoring wells.

Digging deep. A hollow stem auger drills a bore hole to install a groundwater monitoring well.

The TCEQ concurred that the groundwater monitoring frequency could be modified from semi-annual to annual and that the number of monitoring wells to be sampled could be reduced from 23 to 2. Monitored natural attenuation data for the 2014 to 2017 monitoring events demonstrated that TCE groundwater concentrations in the source area were stable and that the affected soils in the source area were not causing the TCE groundwater PCL exceedance zone to expand.

With the evidence in hand, we prepared the Response Action Completion Report (RACR) on January 18, 2018, which contained not only the monitoring data, but also statistical confirmation to demonstrate that the response action objectives for both affected soil and affected groundwater were met. Once again, the wait. Finally, on August 8, 2018, we held our prize, the “golden” Certificate of Completion.

After 11 years, we had one final task to fulfill. The client needed to sign and file the document within the County deed records and submit proof of filing to the TCEQ. This was speedily done in less than two days.

And so, we close a long yet rewarding chapter in this journey. But wait, another saga is coming over the horizon. And as a geologist who loves a challenge, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

About the Author:

Paul has over 35 years of consulting experience in the hydrogeology and engineering geology fields. As an environmental consultant, he has managed and conducted numerous groundwater and soil contamination investigations and corrective actions under various federal and state program areas, Phase I and II Environmental Site Assessments (ESAs), water resource studies and permits, underground injection control (UIC) permit applications for Class I Non-Hazardous and Class V injection wells, and municipal, industrial, and hazardous waste permit applications for industrial clients, oil and gas and electric power generation companies. He is a Licensed/Registered Professional Geologist/Geoscientist in Texas, Arkansas, Florida, and Louisiana. He is also an American Institute of Professional Geologists affirmed Certified Professional Geologist and a registered Corrective Action Project Manager in Texas. Questions for Paul? Send him an email at paul.moore@powereng.com.