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Bond program targets tank cleanup backlog

A $270-million bond issue approved Tuesday by Gov. Lawton Chiles and the state Cabinet is expected to clear a backlog in a program for cleaning up leaking underground fuel tanks.

Chiles shut down the cleanup program in 1995, when it ran up a deficit. Last year, the Legislature authorized use of $65-million a year in gasoline tax money for six years.

Those funds are to finance bond sales to help pay off a backlog of tank cleanup reimbursement claims that already totaled more than $556-million at the end of 1996.

That backlog has since been reduced to $481-million, said Michael Sole, chief of petroleum storage systems for the Department of Environmental Protection. Sole said he expected about 18 percent of those claims to be disallowed.

That and other factors are expected to cut the backlog to $342-million, or about equal to the amount of actual proceeds from the bond issue, Sole said.

The DEP is reviewing the fuel tank cleanup reimbursement claims and, so far, has approved $188-million for payment, he said.

Since uncovering a series of fraudulent claims earlier this year, the department has conducted more than 3,000 site inspections. But just five of those claims have been deferred for further investigation, Sole said.

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