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What the County's Talking About This Week 

Hazardous waste detected near Paso gas station

Jeff Poel of the San Luis Obispo County Environmental Health Services has a saying: "everything leaks." So he wasn't that surprised when a recent investigation found chemicals leaking into the groundwater from a Conoco gas station on Spring Street in Paso Robles. Recently officials found the contamination during a "due diligence" site investigation, a common inspection that occurs before property transactions.

Although Poel wasn't surprised, he said the contamination from methyl tertiary-butyl ether (MBTE), ethylbenzene, and petroleum hydrocarbons was pretty high.

"It's fairly significant, the concentrations are of concern," he said.

County officials found 1,900 micrograms per liter of MTBE in the groundwater at the 1441 Spring Street location. According to a Public Health Department web site, "The current drinking water standards for MTBE are a primary maximum containment level of 13 micro grams per liter." Officials also report a concentration of 1,800 micrograms per liter of ethylbenzene. Poel said that he is more concerned about the levels of ethylbenzene then MTBE.

According to a County Environmental Health Services press release, it is unlikely that the leak should cause harm to the public because the nearest drinking water well, which is not currently in use, is 4,000 feet from the contaminated area.

As far as the Paso Robles leak, it's too early to tell when it started, if it's stopped, or even if it's the result of the Conoco station itself. Poel was able to speculate that the chemical discharge happened fairly recently, though, because of the existence of MBTE; which was an additive in gasoline during the 1980s but eventually phased out for its harmful characteristics.

"Now that we're aware of the problem," said Poel, "the No. 1 thing we want to do is make sure that it's not still leaking." If the tanks are actively leaking, officials plan to excavate them. Poel said cleaning up spills like this is hard because there's no good way to remove the chemicals in gasoline from soils.

"Is there a solution to getting it as clean as it was? Not really," said Poel. "A washing machine is about a million times better at getting hydrocarbons out of your socks than [the cleanup methods for] getting hydrocarbons out of soils 200 feet below the surface."

-John Peabody

Cat killer pleads no contest

It's curtains for Cat Man, aka Charles Holmer Nurss III. Nurss, who shot and killed 18 cats at his home in Arroyo Grande, reached a plea bargain April 4 with the district attorney's office. Nurss plead no contest to one count of animal cruelty in exchange for 30 days in county jail and a minimum of one year's
probation. He originally faced seven counts of animal cruelty.

Nurss and his wife cared for between 40 and 50 cats at their home, and Nurss apparently killed 18 of the cats after he was told by the County Division of Animal Services that the living conditions of the animals was not acceptable. Nurss took this to mean that he could euthanize them himself, which he did by shooting the cats in the head with a .22-caliber rifle.

Nurss' probation stipulates that he cannot acquire any more animals and may not possess a firearm. Nurss' sentencing is scheduled for May 16.

-John Peabody

 County to sell land for open space

SLO County announced it is offering 145 parcels of land for sale in Cayucos to be preserved as green space. The sale is only open to nonprofit land-conservation groups with a
history of successful land management, said Linda Van Fleet, associate property agent for county general services.

The parcels, which range from 1,300 square feet to 25,000 square feet, are separate so it's unlikely that there will be any new trail systems created as a result of the sale, she said. The parcels will be permanently deed-restricted for use as open space.

The parcels were originally intended for development in the 1920s, but the area never acquired streets and utilities. The lots have since been rezoned from residential to rural. According to Van Fleet, houses in rural zones can only be built on lots with a minimum size of one acre. This, along with the difficulty of building roads and some concern about mudslides, led the county to consider converting the parcels to open space instead.

The minimum bid price is set at $1 and bids are due by May 2 at 5 p.m. The Board of Supervisors will conduct the auction
on May 3.

-John Peabody

 Bank robber at large

A man wielding a handgun and a blue drawstring bag is still on the lam after robbing the Los Padres Bank in SLO's Laguna Village Shopping Center.

The suspect, who is described as dark-skinned and between 5 feet 10 inches and 6 feet tall, walked into the Los Padres Bank at 9:06 a.m. April 5 with a handgun and a black hood. The robber showed his gun to the teller and made off with an undisclosed amount of money, fleeing on foot toward the rear of the shopping complex.

San Luis Obispo Police, Sheriff's deputies, the California Highway Patrol, and Cal Poly and Cuesta police officers searched the neighborhood surrounding the complex, but failed to locate a suspect matching the robber's description.

During the search, police put the C.L. Smith Elementary School in lockdown mode. The suspect was last seen wearing a white hooded sweatshirt, dark pants, and carrying a backpack. SLO police and the FBI are currently reviewing surveillance footage from bank cameras. Anyone with information about the robbery is encouraged to call Crime Stoppers at 549-STOP.

-John Peabody

 Pancreatic cancer claims Paso capitalist

The death of Tom Martin on April 2 marks the end of an era among the Paso Robles wine makers and business community. The 61-year-old entrepreneur is best known for his prominent role in revolutionizing the North County wine industry and restoring the historic Paso Robles Inn. He died in his Avila Beach home after a battle with pancreatic cancer.

Martin and his brother Dominic launched Martin Brothers winery in the late 1970s and introduced a number of Italian varietals to the region, including the notable nebbiolo grape. In 1998, David Weyrich bought out Martin's partners and the name was changed to Martin & Weyrich Winery.

Together with Weyrich, Martin ran an extensive business empire, which also included six hotels, two restaurants, and a nationwide billboard company. Martin and his father formed the billboard business, Martin Media, in Los Angeles in 1976, and it sold in 1998 as the country's fifth largest outdoor advertising company.

Two years ago, Martin and his wife Noreen began transforming Paso Robles' old firehouse into a children's museum, which is scheduled to open this year. In lieu of flowers, the family has asked that donations be sent to the museum.

-Jeff Hornaday


Last week's music column byline incorrectly attributed the article to Glen Starkey, who was on vacation. The actual author was none other than New Times' stalwart Jeff Hornaday. Sorry, Jeff. You rock.


This week's news was compiled and reported on by staff writers John Peabody and Jeff Hornaday.

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