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I-40 construction delayed

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Caution tape marks where the discovery was made. Caution tape marks where the discovery was made.
The construction progress has since been stopped. The construction progress has since been stopped.
Environmentalists believe the sludge pit is the aftermath of an oil field that was located in the area. Environmentalists believe the sludge pit is the aftermath of an oil field that was located in the area.

By Dave Jordan, NEWS 9

OKLAHOMA CITY - Environmental concerns are slowing down construction of the Interstate 40 relocation project.

Work halted Monday on the Interstate 40 relocation project after workers discovered a sludge pit.

The pit from an old oil refinery was discovered near Shields Boulevard and the site of the new Interstate 40. The construction project will move the freeway south of downtown near the Oklahoma River and replace the aging Crosstown Expressway. For more about the project, click on the Crumbing Crosstown page.

Bob Cossey, the project manager for Union Pacific, said the sludge pit discovery came as a surprise to the construction crew.

"It slows the project down; they got to do their thing before the construction gets going," Cossey said. "I'm not really for sure how much time it's going to take."

The area was repeatedly surveyed at least three times over a seven-year period. The Department of Environmental Quality reported Parsons, Brinckerhoff, Quade and Douglas was the company that conducted the initial site assessments in 1998, an updated report in 2002, and a detailed study of the areas in 2005.

None of the reports submitted by the company mentioned oil or sludge in the surveyed area.

In January 2007, another company hired by ODOT found excess levels of chemicals near the site, and another independent study confirmed the discovery in March 2007.

"That's when we discovered it had been an oil field refinery site," said John Bowman, ODOT project development engineer. "This was located in the area of their sludge pond."

Investigators think the sludge was present as far back as the 1920s. The state now has to clean up what was left behind, which will delay the construction project.

Calls to Parsons, Brinckerhoff, Quade and Douglas were not returned.

ODOT must now report every step of its cleanup progress to the DEQ.

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