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Editorial: Garden City residents face tough choices

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RESIDENTS of Garden City got a mixture of good and bad news earlier this month.

The bad news is that the United States Environmental Protection Agency has placed the unincorporated town on its national priorities cleanup list because of contaminated groundwater and wells.

Ironically, that could also be interpreted as good news because it raises the possibility of federal aid in resolving the problem.

At the least it’s an official confirmation of what officials in neighboring Columbus and longtime Garden City residents have long suspected and could force some of those residents into making tough decisions about tapping into Columbus’ water system.

There are only 50 families living in the community between downtown Columbus and the Bartholomew County 4-H fairgrounds along State Road 11. The water contamination is hardly a new development. Some Garden City residents began complaining to state officials about the smell and taste of gasoline in the water as early as 1990.

It turns out that was only one of the problems. The gasoline odor and taste were first believed to have originated from a leaking storage tank from a nearby gas station, but later tests pointed to another source that has not been identified. However, that investigation yielded a far more serious contamination — strong measures of trichlorethylene (TCE), a byproduct of the cleaning of metal parts which, ingested in a high enough concentration, may cause nervous system effects, liver and lung damage, abnormal heartbeat, coma and possibly death, according to the EPA.

While that is of obvious worry to those who live in Garden City, government officials are also concerned about the potential effect of the contamination on Columbus’ water supply, especially on a series of wells near the fairgrounds which supply 75 percent of the water used by the city.

The placement of Garden City on the EPA’s national priorities cleanup list is no guarantee that the federal government will underwrite the costs of remedying the problem. However, it does open the door for such assistance should the EPA decide to go farther.

In one respect, it brings to a head the question of whether Garden City residents should tap into city water supplies. The Columbus Utilities Department has offered to provide that option to the residents but it comes at a price. Hook-up fees for some Columbus residents in the past have been as high as $1,000.

The bigger question revolving around the concerns about the potential effects on the water supply for Columbus could be a much more expensive proposition.

The city has 15 wells in the vicinity of the fairgrounds, one less than a mile from the area around Garden City. Columbus utility officials have gone the extra mile in staying ahead of the situation. While the city is required to test its wells for volatile organic chemicals such as TCE every two years, the water is tested about every six months because of the proximity to Garden City.

Maintaining that kind of vigilance is even more imperative in light of the latest EPA designation.

Should the federal government take further action on the Garden City situation, a lot of minds will be eased and not just in Garden City.

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