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An inspector from the Department of Energy & Environmental Protection (DEEP) descended on Town Hall last month and slapped a notice of violation on the town for failure to comply with federal and state underground storage tank rules. DEEP gave the town 30 days to correct the violations or face potential consequences. Public Works Director John Riggio and town officials are now scrambling to address the issue and bring the town into regulatory compliance.
Underground oil storage tanks (USTs), as they age, can develop leaks that seep oil into the surrounding ground. To prevent this, owners of USTs are required by federal regulations to inspect all underground oil tanks every three years and to replace them after 20 to 30 years. DEEP inspectors periodically make surprise inspections of known UST sites to review inspection paperwork, look at the tanks, and then record their findings.
The DEEP database lists more than 3,000 state sites where 12,000 underground tanks are in place. If, after a site and paperwork inspection, the DEEP representative find violations, the UST owner is given a notice of violation, which is what the town received after the surprise DEEP tank site inspection last month.
For many years, town and schools buildings relied on oil as the fuel source for heating. Underground oil storage tanks held the oil tapped for the boilers. As a result, even at buildings recently converted to natural gas heat, oil tanks are still in the ground. On the town’s list is a 1,000 gallon tank from 1991 at the firehouse, a 10,000 gallon tank from 1975 at Daisy Ingraham Elementary School, a 1,000 gallon tank from 1991 at the Westbrook Historical Society building on the Town Green, and a 1,000 gallon tank from 1991 at the John P. Riggio Building on the Post Road. All four of these USTs are more than 25 years old, with the Daisy tank topping 40 years.
Slightly newer but still at the end of their useful life are a UST from 1998 at the Westbrook Public Library and one from 1994 at the Westbrook High School/Middle School campus. For these tanks, the school district committed to provide DEEP with the paperwork confirming inspection done in summer 2017 found these tanks in good shape.
For the other USTs, town officials are completing the needed inspections and making plans for the tanks’ removal.
At press time, town and school officials were still trying to confirm the status of the Daisy school UST. Neither the town nor the school had confirmed if the old tank had already been removed or not. That building is now heated with natural gas and the oil tank is no longer needed.
At two of the buildings—the Fire Department’s firehouse and the John P. Riggio Building—one option would be for the town and Fire Department to decide now to convert the heating systems for both buildings to natural gas. If that approach is taken, then the two oil tanks, now buried, could be removed and not replaced.
For the town, the most cost-effective UST solution—and one that avoids future potential environmental liability—is to remove the aging existing underground tanks, backfill the sites, and replace the USTs with new above-ground tanks or convert the heating systems to natural gas.
On Jan. 3, Joe Kopuylec of the Southern Connecticut Gas company wrote to Riggio confirming that SCG would not charge the town to bring natural gas to the Riggio Building at 1163 Boston Post Road. Gas service would come in to the building off of South Main Street. To move forward, the Board of Selectmen would need to appropriate funds to convert the existing system by installing new burners or replace the existing oil boiler with one using natural gas.
Removal of the UST and installation of an above-ground tank was the solution the Board of Selectmen chose for the Memorial Hall/Westbrook Historical Society UST. On Dec. 20, 2017, the BOS voted to spend $5,000 to remove that UST and install an above-ground oil tank behind the building to replace it. However, the extremely cold weather of the last two weeks could delay the timing of that tank’s removal.
The other two tanks—the one for the firehouse and for the Riggio Building—await the outcome of a study of whether or not to convert to natural gas.
On Dec. 29, 2017, the Town of Westbrook reported to DEEP’s Kelly McShea on the status of the town’s inspections of existing tanks and of its plans moving forward. According to First Selectman Noel Bishop, McShea indicated that as long as the town has a plan to address the UST violations and is moving forward on that plan, DEEP will be satisfied for now.
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