Regulators reminded the Southern California city of Long Beach late last month that, just as private-sector busineses must comply with safety rules, public agencies must meet the same standards or face expensive consequences.

On Jan. 26, California’s State Water Resources Control Board announced it had reached a $6.2-million settlement with the city for improperly storing petroleum and waste oil in underground tanks.

The settlement was the first enforcement of its kind in California against a public agency, officials say, and could result in work worth millions of dollars for specialty contractors to install monitoring systems throughout the state.

The State Water Resources Control Board “will not tolerate violations of these important environmental protection laws and will take swift action against all violators, whether public or private,” says Reed Sato, director of the Water Resources Control Board’s Office of Enforcement.

“This is the beginning of an enforcement-initiative undertaking, in conjunction with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, to look at cities, counties and state agencies’ compliance with safety regulations,” Sato says.

Inspectors will be examining records at as many as 500 facilities for safety measures such as double-wall containment, real-time monitoring devices and oversight. “Hopefully, cases like Long Beach will wake up other cities and counties so they will get into compliance,” Sato said.

Long Beach’s 45 petroleum and oil waste tanks had the honor of being investigated first because a complaint in 2003 alerted authorities to a leaking spigot on a fuel tank in the marina.

Since the investigation began, city officials have taken the leaking tank out of commission and removed contaminated soils. The city also hired Huntington Beach-Based ii Fuels Inc. to install leak-prevention and monitoring equipment on the remaining tanks.

The settlement included $2.5 million, which the city can apply as an offset for further safety projects. The city already has issued an request for proposals to create an underground storage-tank monitoring plan, according to Long Beach Public Works Director Michael Conway.

Another RFP will go out this month for construction of an underground boat-fuel storage tank at the marina to replace the leaking one taken out of commission three years ago.