Pilot program helps with costs of containment structure

By JOHN O'CONNELL

Capital Press

Few Idaho farmers have taken advantage of a Natural Resources Conservation Service program that assists them with costs of drafting and implementing federally mandated fuel and oil spill prevention plans, officials say.

The Environmental Protection Agency has set a May 2013 deadline -- extended from November of 2011 -- for growers to have updated plans in place.

The EPA will require growers who store more than 10,000 gallons of fuel or oil in one location to hire a professional engineer to develop a plan.

The EPA requires growers with fewer than 10,000 gallons but more than 1,320 gallons at one location to have a plan but allows them to do their own certifications. The process is more streamlined for growers below the 10,000 gallon threshold who don't own a single tank with more than a 5,000-gallon capacity. The EPA has a template growers can use for self certification, linked to www.epa.gov/oilspill .

Idaho is among eight states included in an NRCS pilot program to assist certain growers with engineering costs of developing a plan, and if necessary, installing a concrete spill containment structure.

The NRCS will accept applications for its 2012 cost-share program, available only to growers who store more than 10,000 gallons in a single place, through May 4. The NRCS program is not offered in Oregon, Washington or California.

The NRCS also requires that growers contract with engineers certified as technical service providers. A list of qualified engineers is available at http://techreg.usda.gov/CustLocateTSP.aspx .

If plans identify a potential risk of leaking oil or gas from any farm reaching U.S. waters, the grower will be required to build a containment structure.

Larry Mickelsen, district conservationist with the NRCS Caribou County office, assisted two farmers in 2011, including one who will soon accept assistance to install a concrete containment structure, based on his plan.

Those were the only two in Idaho who participated. Two farmers -- one in Clark County, the other in Power County -- have applications pending this so far this year.

"Very few landowners know they have a potential issue. I don't think it's become a real priority for them yet," Mickelsen said.

Mickelsen said the NRCS seeks to cover half of growers' expenses, offering $2,160 in 2012 toward hiring a technical service provider and between $3,550 and $8,300 toward building a containment structure, depending on the size specified by a spill prevention plan.

For 2012, there is $75,000 allocated for the Idaho program -- $25,000 for developing spill prevention plans and $50,000 for helping to build actual facilities.

Rob Sampson, state conservation engineer with the NRCS, said the agency opted to start the pilot program at the urging of the national wheat industry.

"NRCS is just trying to help the landowners so when they get it done it's done right and well documented," Sampson said.

Richard Franklin, coordinator of EPA's program for Idaho, Washington and Oregon, said growers have been required to have spill prevention plans since 1974, but the program has been amended several times since 2002.

He acknowledged many growers don't have plans.

Random inspections aren't planned, and growers aren't required to file their documents with EPA. Lack of compliance could be discovered when growers report spills, Franklin said.

"I'm getting lots of calls from farmers wanting to be compliant," Franklin said, adding turnout has been strong at EPA workshops hosted on the issue.

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