HEBRON — The state will wait until March or April to clean up an estimated 1,105 gallons of heating oil believed to be in the wooded wetlands surrounding Hebron Station School, SAD 17 officials and residents were told Thursday night.

Sheryl Bernard, head of the Department of Environmental Protection response team sent to the school Dec. 27 to assess the spill in the oil-tank room, told the 60 or so people at a public meeting that she will be ready to collect the oil once the weather warms up and the water begins to move.

“We know where it is down there,” she said. “We know what we need to do to make sure it stops where we know it is. I will know when the time is right.

More than 1,500 gallons of oil leaked out of the school basement tank shortly after midnight Dec. 25 as it was being filled by a driver from the C.N. Brown oil company. School officials previously estimated the amount of spilled oil at 1,900 gallons.

Bernard said 192 gallons have been recovered from the wetlands by absorbent pads and most of the rest has been captured in ice and snow. The oil will be easier to collect when it is flowing on the water, Bernard said.

To collect it safely and prevent it from moving farther, Bernard said she intends to put a gravity drain pipe into the ground and perhaps flush out the oil through the existing perimeter pipe.

“I want to beef up our defenses,” she said.

Bernard said about 119 gallons of oil may have been under the tank floor and a 87 gallons have been recovered by a pump, she said.

While the amount of oil has decreased slightly, residents said they remain concerned about air-quality issues, environmental damage and responsibility.

Superintendent Rick Colpitts said he could not address many of the liability questions. He said the school’s insurer said insurance would cover any claim.

“They reassured us we have nothing to worry about,” he said.

Colpitts said some internal procedures have been addressed to prevent another problem, including reporting any oil spill, no matter how small; recording the oil-tank level weekly; and contacting an engineer to look at similar oil-tank bunker rooms at Paris Elementary School and Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School in Paris.

Maintenance workers at the Hebron school asked C.N. Brown to fill the oil tank because the fuel gauge showed it was running low. An oil truck arrived Dec. 25 and pumped in about 160 gallons before a whistle that indicates there is space in the tank stopped blowing. Usually, Colpitts said, if the whistle stops, it means the tank is full. However, the fuel gauge continued to read empty so the driver decided to continue pumping.

Officials later determined the problem was in a vacuum air leak in the tank gauge.

Oil overflowed and sprayed out of several parts of the tank, covering the floor of the bunker room under the school with about a foot of oil.

School officials were assured by C.N. Brown that someone would be back to pump it out immediately, but Colpitts said that never happened. The room, which was thought to be a containment room, emptied of oil within six hours and was found that way by school maintenance workers.

Some residents called for a change in the law to require school oil tanks to be housed in a contained room to prevent spills.

Other parents questioned what effects a brief power outage Thursday at the school had on the air quality. They were told there was no evidence the air quality was affected adversely.

Air quality remains at acceptable levels throughout the school even in the gymnasium, DEP officials said. The gymnasium remains off limits to students and staff because of air-level readings that are within safe ranges but considered higher than acceptable to school officials.

Dr. Andrew Smith, a DEP air-quality specialist, said the concern is about long-term exposure to the oil vapors, so all readings the DEP is using are considered conservative.

Beth Francis, who with her husband, Lon, operate the Storekeepers variety store across from the school, experienced a spill 35 years ago on their property. Referrinng to that spill, she said, “It was a sad situation for the store. It’s a sadder situation (now) for the school. But I think (the DEP people) know what they’re doing. This was just a calamity of errors.”

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