It was an environmental disaster. It damaged the environment. It could have hurt people.
It also could have delayed construction of the new Aztec Stadium.
However, the decades-old multimillion-dollar problem underneath Mission Valley has finally been resolved.
“When it started, I didn’t think it’d ever get done," said long-time investigative journalist J.W. August. “I really didn’t. It’s hard to believe it really happened.”
San Diego Water Board senior engineering geologist Sean McClain was also impressed. McClain dedicated several years of his career making sure a large aquifer beneath several large petroleum tanks and the SDCCU Stadium property were cleaned.
“This is probably the largest clean-up in San Diego County from a petroleum site,” McClain said.
McClain explained that the Mission Valley Terminal, a series of white fuel tanks along Interstate 15, leaked roughly 1.6 million gallons of fuel into the ground in the 1980s and ‘90s.
August and McClain said that leaked petroleum also included an additive called MTBE.
“That was dangerous, dangerous stuff,” said August, who added that it has been shown to cause cancer. "It stays in the environment. It gets in humans."
McClain said the state of California eventually banned MTBE, but that was after it already seeped into roughly 10 acres of ground in Mission Valley. He said after a long legal battle, Kinder Morgan, the company that owns the tanks, cleaned the contaminated area outside the terminal by 2013. He said they used hundreds of wells and approximately $70 million on the clean-up. McClain said they recently completed the project on their own terminal property, although a few things still need to be checked before final approval is granted.
“It was great to see the aquifer be able to be put back in use again,” said McClain with a sigh. “So if the cities do want to use this groundwater, they can use it.”
That wasn’t an option for roughly 30 years.
If the clean-up wasn’t completed, McClain said there is very little chance the Aztec Stadium could be built next to the old SDCCU Stadium.
“Oh, my gosh, what a nightmare that would have been,” August said.
August said the city of San Diego still sued Kinder Morgan in federal court and was awarded $20 million.
“That 20 million bucks is a way to make sure that there’s no surprises that pop up,” August said.