OXFORD — SAD 17 officials will consult with engineers after a Maine Department of Environmental Protection report found a series issues with how the school district stores oil.

In a 12-page inspection report released Wednesday, the DEP told school officials to have engineers evaluate the condition of oil storage tanks, safety alarm systems, and how the district disposes of spilled oil.

The report recommended the immediate inspection of a 11,400 above-ground gallon oil at the Paris Elementary School after finding boiler water had ‘severely’ eroded supports and the bottom of the tank casing.

Superintendent Rick Colpitts volunteered for the inspection following the wake of a 1,500 gallon oil spill at Hebron Station School on Christmas.

‘If there’s a problem or an issue we want to prevent it,’ Colpitts said.

In addition to changing oil handling practices, the report recommends the district adopt spill, prevention, control, and countermeasure plans for oil tanks at four facilities.

School officials said the spill plans, required under federal law, were never devised because they did not believe they were needed.

DEP officials told the school ‘point blank’ they were not enforcing schoollevel compliance because of their low spill rate in comparison to home heating oil spills, Colpitts said.

According to Maine DEP spokesperson Jessamine Logan, the school spill plans are federally enforced, and while state-level officials encourage and provide technical assistance on devising the document, in most instances the state agency lacks the authority to compel school districts to adopt a plan.

‘While this program has always been a technical assistance program rather than an enforcement one, we do have authority to enforce [it] if need be for marketing and distribution facilities,’ Logan said.

No fines have been assessed in the case, and the DEP has not determined if the school will be subject to penalty, Logan said.

The district has displayed a ‘good faith’ effort to come into compliance, she said, and the DEP will not be taking enforcement actions for failure to have a spill plan in place.

Following the spill, DEP officials toured four sites on Feb. 20: the Oxford Hills bus garage in Norway, Paris Elementary School, Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School, and Hebron Station School – where aboveground oil tanks are in use.

Based on the DEP’s findings, the district is current­ly seeking engineers to devise an action plan, Colpitts said. It’s unclear how much implementation will cost until the engineer’s estimates return, though $40,000 has been earmarked in the budget.

The spill occurred when a CN Brown Company driver overfilled a 3000-gallon oil tank at Hebron Station School, causing 1,516 gallons of oil to spray out of a fuel gauge. Officials say the rubber encasing a tube inserted into the tank to measure the volume was cracked, causing it to malfunction and the driver to continue pumping.

At a community forum in early February, lead DEP responder Sheryl Bernard told parents that it will take until spring before as much as 1,100 gallons of oil found in the wetlands can be removed.

Ice and snow have halted the cleanup effort, though environmental contractors have pumped several hundreds of gallons of oil out from beneath the school.

The spill closed the 136-student elementary school for a week. The gym, directly above the tank room, was closed for over a month.

In a March 5 letter to Colpitts David McCaskill, a senior environmental engineer, said SAD 17 officials accepted an offer to have DEP staff inspect and evaluate the districts oil tanks.

In addition to devising a spill plan at all four locations, the report had specific recommendations at each facility.

At Paris Elementary, Hebron Station, and the high school, McCaskill suggested installing leak detection sensors, determining whether the vault room the oil tanks are situated in can contain an oil spill, regularly ensuring overfill prevention alarms are functioning, and fire rating the room’s roof.

At the Oxford Hills Garage, the report noted an audible alarm system for a 12,000 gallon oil tank was malfunctioning, and oil that overflowed from tanks was improperly clean up.

‘The volume of oil storage is such that a federal SPCC plan is required for each of these facilities,’ McCaskill wrote.

‘We believe that, because of the oil volume and complexity, it will be difficult for the District to adequately put these together without the assistance of an engineering firm with the experience in the development and implementation of SPCC plans.’

In 1973 the DEP began enforcing a host of environmental protection procedures under the Clean Water Act. The SPCC rule, intended to prevent and provide response to oil spills that could discharge into water bodies.

Under the law, most facilities with a combination of oil tanks containing more than 1,320 gallons must develop and certify an action plan with engineers. Though in some instances smaller facilities are exempt, the rule applies to all four locations in SAD 17.

Logan would not speculate if the plans would have stopped oil from entering the wetlands.

‘The situation could have been different if the DEP was immediately notified of the spill. All spills regardless of size must be reported to the department. Everything from a homeowner changing their car’s oil to a heating oil tank overflow,’ she said.


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