VAN ZANDT, Wash. — A hidden problem is lurking beneath gas stations across Washington state. Aging fuel tanks are rotting, threatening the environment and costing business owners big money to fix.
Jeff Margolis operated a small grocery store and gas station for 49 years in the tiny Whatcom County town of Van Zandt.
Three gas pumps operated at the site since at least 1934 before Margolis closed the operation down in 2019. While the old gas pumps are long gone, they’ve left a lasting legacy that Margolis has to deal with -- giving him a sinking feeling.
"Gravity is the enemy that never sleeps," said Margolis.
The state now says Margolis is responsible for generations of contamination from underground fuel tanks. He estimated the fix will cost $3 million.
"So now here I am dealing with this burden that was not entirely my own doing," Margolis said.
Margolis would like to sell the place or leave it to his kids, but he doesn’t want to saddle them with this burden. And he isn’t alone.
According to the Washington State Department of Ecology, at least 2,500 gas stations across the state need to be cleaned up. That adds up to around 10,000 tanks.
“Generations have passed until there was finally some government oversight, and now they're suddenly saying this is my responsibility," said Margolis.
Margolis said he’s had the water on his property tested, and it shows no signs of contamination.
As for what comes next, Margolis is simply at a loss.
"Well, I give up. I just give up," he said with an exasperated sigh. "It’s in God's hands."
There is some state funding available to help property owners, but Margolis doesn't believe there is nearly enough to fully fund all the clean-ups that need to happen.
Margolis is hoping the state Legislature will find a way to help him and all those other operators.