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Soil removal leaves $221K bill behind

More than 4,000 yards of hazardous soil left behind from an old fuel tank leak was removed this summer from land just feet away from the West Fargo Kindergarten Center.

Pete Diemert

More than 4,000 yards of hazardous soil left behind from an old fuel tank leak was removed this summer from land just feet away from the West Fargo Kindergarten Center.

Now the School District faces a $221,000 bill that wasn't in its budget plans.

Board members were torn Thursday morning between increasing the mill levy slightly or using money from their $15 million general fund cash carryover, risking potential deficient spending later this year.

"It's a double-edged sword," board President Tom Gentzkow said. "We're damned if we do, damned if we don't."

Board members decided to increase the levy by 1.42 mills, with board member Ben Koppelman casting the lone dissenting vote.

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"I don't feel comfortable adding it just because we can," Koppelman said, adding that the board should lower the mills as much as it can.

"I think we'd be good stewards of the district by increasing the mills," board member Karen Nitzkorski said.

Board members stressed that taxpayers will still see a reduction in mills - 3.12 fewer than last year.

Plus, "it's a one-shot deal," Gentzkow said of the hazardous material levy of 1.42 mills, which is about $12.78 on a home valued at $200,000. "It goes away after a year."

The district knew of the contaminated soil when it contracted with Moorhead architectural firm YHR Partners last winter to design a Kindergarten Center addition. But the extent of the fuel leakage wasn't known until workers started digging and testing the soil this summer as they prepared to build the addition, said Julie Rokke of YHR.

The 4,332 yards of soil - up to 12 feet underground - was contaminated when one of two old fuel tanks used to heat the adjacent Lodoen Center leaked. Both tanks were removed several years ago.

"(The soil) probably had some contamination in it for many years," said Pete Diemert, the School District's director of buildings and grounds.

Gary Berreth of the state Health Department said that as long as the contamination was under layers of clean soil, "usually it doesn't pose a problem."

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The soil was removed by the end of May.

With his own grandchild attending the center, Diemert said he's confident the land is safe.

"We took the best route possible," he said. "We felt it was the safest for our children."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Kelly Smith at (701) 241-5515

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