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Old gas station tanks halt DOT work in Cleveland
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This photo, provided by the state Department of Transportation, depicts the intersection of U.S. 129 and Ga. 115 in Cleveland. On the right is the Pure gas station that occupied the lot on which the DOT currently is installing an ornamental traffic pole. The photo is believed to date to the 1960s. - photo by For The Times


Bradley Greene, co-owner of Nix Hardware in downtown Cleveland, talks about how he believes a Georgia Department of Transportation project will improve traffic on the square.

The Georgia Department of Transportation got an unexpected delay and — for a time — a mystery on its hands when working to place ornamental traffic poles in the Cleveland downtown square.

Workers, while digging last month to pour footings at U.S. 129 and Ga. 115 for the last of three decorative mast arms, struck two underground storage tanks.

"We backed off the situation and called our offices and started following protocol," including notifying the Georgia Environmental Facilities Agency, said DOT spokeswoman Teri Pope.

Workers "made sure there was no gas escaping (the tanks) and it wasn’t a gas line (they hit), or that there wasn’t still gas in the tanks," Pope said. "There were no odors or gas emitting from those holes."

After determining there were no dangers, workers covered the holes with steel plates, which are "out of the roadway because they are where the mast arm would go," Pope said.

A DOT investigation of the site did not turn up anything that would derail the digging.

"We went back the last 12 property owners (and) there was no information concerning it had been a gas station or that there ever had been underground storage tanks," she said. "We also asked people who lived in the area, and they couldn’t remember anything like that either."

After hitting the tanks, the DOT learned there was a Pure gas station on the corner in the early 1960s. A photo provided to the DOT clearly shows the station and the circular Pure sign.

The DOT has halted work until the environmental agency completes its work. It is not yet known when that work will be finished.

"We’re still waiting on their direction ... on how to proceed," Pope said Monday.

Agency officials couldn’t be reached for comment Tuesday. State offices were closed Tuesday in observance of Veterans Day.

The DOT had planned to complete the work by Thanksgiving.

The project is part of an overall effort to improve traffic flow and pedestrian access on the square.

Cleveland bought the mast arms, which will replace wooden signal poles.

Georgia DOT crews also have expanded the turning radius from 5 feet to 75 feet from Ga. 115 east to U.S. 129 south.

"Regions Bank donated land from their lot (at U.S. 129 and Ga. 115) so we could put a bigger shoulder and give trucks more room to make that turn," Pope said.

DOT crews also are building three crosswalks and installing pedestrian signals to allow protected walking access across U.S. 129 and Ga. 115.

Dean Dyer, co-owner and general manager of WRWH-AM in Cleveland, said the project’s delay has created a slight buzz among residents. The station reported on the mishap when it happened.

"Basically, (residents) were saying, ‘No one asked me (what had been at the site). I could have told them there was a service station there,’ " he said.

Shirley McDonald, longtime Cleveland resident and treasurer of the White County Historical Society, was familiar with the corner.

She said a gas station occupied the lot for years, dating from the 1940s.

Later, "there was a bus station (there)," McDonald said. "When that building was torn down, the bus just stopped there."

She also recalled, "That’s where a lot of the men gathered to talk. Somebody used to call it the ‘liars bench.’ "

Today, Norton-Dixon Insurance occupies a building on the lot.

Project woes aside, Bradley Greene, co-owner of Nix Hardware on the square with Charlie Thomas Jr., said he is looking forward to the completion of the work. He especially appreciated the new turning radius.

"It was kind of a bottleneck there," he said.

"I believe that as soon as the turn-signal lights are installed and the crosswalks (are completed), we’re well on our way to some tremendous improvements on the square."

The city also is upgrading sidewalks and installing some new lampposts to beautify the square and "make things look fresh, new and a little more exciting," Greene said.