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Tanks for the memories

"It wasn’t one of those eureka! experiences, but workers were surprised to find four underground fuel tanks below what for many years was called the Bayview Cash Store.“The current owner was advised before she bought it that they knew of two,” said geologist Dan McShane, who was hired by Nancy Nordhoff to oversee the project. “But they found four.”New owner Nordhoff is cleaning up the area so the historic building can be shored up and saved to continue housing a coffee shop and artist’s resource center. The bicycle shop will be moving sometime in the near future.Contractor Ron Swenson said the tanks removed ranged from 200 to 500 gallons in capacity. One was empty, one was filled with concrete, one was mostly dirt and water, but one held a mixture of about 200 gallons of gasoline and water. The old fuel was pumped into a recycling tanker and hauled away.Geologist McShane, who works for Bellingham-based Stratum Group, said the old tanks fortunately caused little pollution in the area. Dirt was excavated from and area extending about 25 feet beneath the buildings, but fears that it would have to be jacked up and totally excavated were unfounded.The removed dirt was trucked to a nearby site where it will spend the winter under a tarp and then be mixed with organic material next spring and rototilled. That and evaporation should leave clean dirt. Meanwhile, new fill will be placed under the building and the foundation rebuilt.McShane said modern rules regarding underground fuel tanks are very strict, a stark contract to how it used to be. “When something went wrong with your tank you just put in a new one,” he said.Although some dirt around the tanks needs to be cleaned, fuel apparently never reached the groundwater. Two wells were dug with a hand auger last January and tests since then “have come up clean,” McShane said. “That’s pretty reassuring.” Water in the area sits on top of a layer of clay which is only about 10 feet below the surface, he said.Removal of the tanks sparked some old memories for Harry Josephson, who attended Bayview School across the street from 1925 to 1934. Bill Burke owned the store in those days and it had one gas pump, he recalled. In the ‘30s it was purchased by Harold Johnson who added a second pump. “There was always gas there til recently,” Josephson said, joking that at his age “recently” means about 20 years ago.Both gas pumps have long since removed and now the underground tanks are gone, too. A flower bed now covers the spot where early South Whidbey residents once filled their Model T’s with gas."

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