Land for Fairfax bus lot may be contaminated

Local,Virginia,Transportation,Taylor Holland

Fairfax City officials will vote Tuesday on whether to spend nearly $4 million for a tract of land that "may still be contaminated" by one of the worst oil spills in Northern Virginia history.

The city council plans to build a $1.6 million parking lot for at least 50 school buses on the 2.2-acre site, a proposal that angered residents in surrounding neighborhoods and had the current owner of the land questioning whether the site is suitable for school buses.

The lot sits on part of the Pickett Road tank farm, where an estimated 200,000 gallons of oil spilled into waterways and the yards of thousands of residents 20 years ago. The spill reduced property values so drastically that $8 million was put aside to buy the 26 worst-hit homes and took nearly a decade to clean up.

Despite the possibility that land may still be contaminated, City Manager Bob Sisson said it's a suitable site to park buses. He gave the plan the go-ahead earlier this year.

City officials are moving quickly because a developer offered them $8 million for the city's current school bus parking lot at Eleven Oaks. Officials said the contamination is restricted to a small area and noted that the Environmental Protection Agency isn't requiring the city to clean it up.

The current owner of the land, Motiva, a joint-venture of Shell Oil and Saudi Refining Inc., told the city in April that it has safety concerns about the site and called the tract "less than optimal for a bus lot."

"Loaded gasoline tanker trucks leaving one of the four terminals traveling south on Pickett Road will [now] encounter increased traffic and buses turning onto or off of Pickett Road, [which] will increase the chance for a serious accident," the company said in a letter.

Meanwhile, residents like Jane Campbell said the purchase of potentially contaminated land is just one in a series of "really dumb" decisions by the city.

Residents are concerned about the loss of green space, the addition of a noisy 50-bus fleet to a lot near her neighborhood and an increase in traffic along the already congested Pickett Road, said Campbell, secretary of the Comstock Homeowners Association.

Five neighborhood committees from Fairfax City have signed a petition opposing construction of the lot, she said.

Still, Mayor Scott Silverthorne said the Pickett Road location is the best of at least 12 sites the city considered because it's further from homes than the city's current site. And if there's further contamination of the site, Silverthorne said Motiva, not the city, would be responsible for the clean up.

The council meeting will begin at 7 p.m. at City Hall.

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