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Toxic waste is found on land county bought

For the second time this year, county officials have discovered toxic waste on land they hope to use to provide services. The county paid $5.3-million to Fortune Savings Bank in April for its building at 101 S Fort Harrison Ave. in downtown Clearwater. The county expects to move administrative offices and customer service counters for the water and sewer departments into the building.

But an environmental study has detected petroleum wastes on the site near where a fuel tank was stored, and officials expect a former property owner to clean it up, county real estate manager Ellyn Kadel said.

Union Oil of California, also known as Unocal, sold the property to Fortune Bank and has agreed to pay the costs of studying the contamination and cleaning it up, Kadel said. County officials estimate it will cost $300,000 to remove the contamination, Kadel said.

Fortune Savings also will set aside $75,000 in case the price exceeds what officials expect it to be, County Administrator Fred Marquis wrote in a memo.

"Apparently, it is cheaper to clean it up than it is to argue about it," Kadel said. "It is expensive when you get into litigating."

That might not be the case with the owner of another building county officials hope to buy.

County officials agreed in June to pay the Zero Corp. $1.9-million for its manufacturing plant across from the Pinellas County Jail. The county hopes to use the plant for a minimum-security detention center in order to relieve overcrowding at the 1,800-inmate jail.

But a routine environmental survey revealed solvents had been dumped at the site.

Carl M. Barron, director of the county's general services department, said he hopes the county still will be able to use the property to house low-risk jail inmates. A more detailed environmental report is expected to be complete next month.

Marquis told members of the county's Correctional Planning Committee last week that Zero officials have bristled at the suggestion they pay to clean up the hazardous solvents. The county may end up in court to force the company to remove the contamination, Marquis said.

"We are vigorously pursuing acquiring the building," County Commissioner Bruce Tyndall told other members of the correctional committee.