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CONTAMINATION HELD UP WORK ON NEW WALGREENS

Underground toxic materials had to be cleared.

The cinder block walls are going up for a new Walgreens just north of John Chesnut Sr. Park.

On the northwest corner of East Lake and Sandy Point roads, a small strip mall and a gas station were demolished several months ago to make way for the new store.

Construction progress belies the complications the drugstore company has encountered in redeveloping the site.

Pinellas County officials haggled to protect as many trees as possible and replace trees unavoidably lost. It also limited the square footage of the building to a smaller-than-average footprint for a Walgreens.

But the toughest problem: Over the years, two previous tenants released toxic substances into the soil and water beneath the buildings. The site received a double dose of contamination that landed it on state lists for contaminated site cleanup.

Before it was torn down, the 1978-vintage shopping center housed 11 businesses in two buildings. A 7-Eleven gas station stood near East Lake Road and a second masonry building housed Eastlake Cleaners.

State documents show 7-Eleven petroleum storage tanks leaked four times over the years and Eastlake Cleaners released dry cleaning solvent.

"There's monitoring going on, so it's not anything people should be concerned about," said Gayle Guidash, director of environmental health for the county Health Department. "Chemicals can degrade - eventually. That's the good news."

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The state has a local site manager watching over the petroleum cleanup.

The 7-Eleven removed the underground storage tanks last year, as well as all the soil known to be affected, said Andrew Moore of the county Health Department, a geologist and the state's site manager for the cleanup.

Part of the cleanup qualifies for state money, he said, so the state and 7-Eleven are sharing the cost.

After the Walgreens construction is completed, Moore said 7-Eleven also will install wells for monitoring groundwater contamination.

The dry cleaning fluid spill qualifies for state cleanup money, but the spill score is not high priority enough to secure funds.

Richard E. Carman of Bureau Veritas North America, an environmental consultant for the Walgreens project, summarized the dry cleaning solvent leak in a letter to the Southwest Florida Water Management District in May.

Carman wrote that the Walgreens project developer, Phoenix Development Solutions of Safety Harbor, which is not responsible for the solvent cleanup, has taken voluntary actions to remove contamination. The developer had the dry cleaning equipment and chemicals on site removed, had the soil tested and removed about 700 tons of soil.

In the future, the consultant wrote, an underground injection system will be installed for further treating the water under the site as well as a network of wells for monitoring the flow of contamination.

When more money becomes available for the dry cleaning solvent cleanup program, Carman expects the state to further clean up the chemical.

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Charles R. Walgreen Sr. opened the first Walgreens in 1901 on the south side of Chicago. He paid $6,000 for a drugstore with 1,000 square feet, then he upped the lighting, widened the aisles and introduced innovations like hot food at the soda fountain.

Today, the company based in Deerfield, Ill., has nearly 7,000 Walgreens drugstores. Florida has almost 800, more than any other state.

The county limited the size of the East Lake building on 1.51 acres to no greater than the square footage of the demolished buildings, about 12,500 square feet - about 2,000 square feet smaller than a typical Walgreens.

Walgreens did not disclose how much it is spending to build the drugstore on a leased location. East Lake Acquisitions of Largo owns the land. In 2008, the county Property Appraiser put the market value of the property at $1.31 million.

The new Walgreens will have a drive-through pharmacy and 58 spaces in the parking lot. A retention pond already exists on the northeast side of the property and another is under construction on the west side.

Walgreens spokeswoman Vivika Vergara said stores typically employ about 25 to 30 people. The jobs will be posted on www.walgreens.com under "careers" about 45 days before the opening, she said, and anyone interested can also apply at neighboring Walgreens stores.

Depending on how weather affects construction, Vergara said, the store will open sometime in early 2010, possibly in March.

Reach Theresa Blackwell at blackwellt@verizon.net.

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