An environmental group has sued the Idaho Department of Transportation alleging the agency is more than a decade behind in complying with federal regulations that prohibit it from disposing motor-vehicle waste underground.
Motor-vehicle waste-disposal wells typically contain engine oil and transmission, power steering and brake fluids. The wells are floor drains or sinks that connect to underground septic systems or dry wells. The transportation department has these types of wells at some maintenance facilities around the state.
Before 1999, this waste could be disposed of underground. Because underground disposal can contaminate drinking water, federal regulations adopted in 1999 under the Safe Drinking Water Act prohibited new underground vehicle-waste disposal wells and required existing wells to be decommissioned by Jan. 1, 2005.
Decommissioning requires permanently plugging the wells and ensuring that surrounding soil is not contaminated. After closing a well, the waste can be discarded in holding tanks or via sewer hookups.
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In its lawsuit, filed Feb. 22 in U.S. District Court in Boise, the Idaho Conservation League said “approximately 75 of ITD’s 116 motor vehicle waste disposal wells ... have not been properly decommissioned.”
“Now — 12 years past the legal deadline — ITD has failed to close and decommission the majority of its wells,” the lawsuit said.
The environmental group is asking the court to declare the transportation department in violation of federal law and to order the agency to stop using wells within 30 days and properly decommission them within one year.
ITD said it has been working to decommission its wells, and most that have not yet been decommissioned are in rural areas.
Spokesman Vince Trimboli said ITD’s maintenance sheds include areas where employees wash vehicles and perform light maintenance such as oil changes. Any oil that comes directly out of a vehicle is disposed of properly and not sent down a drain, he said.
Trimboli said ITD has been working for several years with the Idaho Department of Water Resources on a remediation plan for the wells that have not yet been decommissioned. Once the water resources department finishes inspecting all of the transportation department’s maintenance facilities, ITD will submit for approval a plan on how it will decommission the ones that do not comply with the law, Trimboli said.