PARIS — Selectmen want SAD 17 to limit the amount of heating oil stored at the Paris Elementary School in order to limit the potential of a spill into the town’s sensitive wellhead protection zone.

On Monday, selectmen voted to have Town Manager Amy Bernard and Code Enforcement Officer Fred Collins meet SAD 17 officials and ask to limit the amount of oil in the school’s 11,400-gallon tank to 1,000 gallons, or a week’s supply.

Selectmen have expressed serious concerns with the safety of the tank, particularly the severe corrosion on supports and the underside of the tank itself, resulting from groundwater that has seeped into the underground concrete bunker the tank sits in.

Selectman Robert Wessels suggested limiting the amount of oil in the school’s tank, noting the town’s Wellhead Protection Ordinance only pertains to facilities that handle 1,000 gallons or more of petroleum products. 

Limiting the volume of oil in the tank could mitigate the seriousness of any spill until the school district decides what it wants to do to remedy the situation permanently, Wessels suggested. 

In late December, an accidental discharge at the Hebron Station School spilled more than 1,500 gallons of heating oil into the ground and nearby wetlands, prompting concerns about the condition of other oil tanks in the area’s schools. 

Selectman Sam Elliot raised the issue at Paris Elementary in mid-February, but SAD 17 officials largely dismissed the concerns. At the time, Superintendent Rick Colpitts said he was aware of rust stains on the tank, but said district officials were “not losing sleep” over the situation. 

A report by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection released earlier this month concluded there is evidence of “severe corrosion” on the Paris Elementary tank and recommended the district come up with plans to eliminate the flow of water into the tank and come up with a required Spill Prevention Control and Countermeasures plan that was never developed by the district. 

At Monday’s meeting, Elliot said he has been disappointed with the school district’s reaction to the situation at Paris Elementary and bemoaned what he considered to be inadequate reporting on the part of local media.

The town has started a new section of its website to keep Paris residents informed about updates in the situation, Elliot said. 

“We’ll keep you informed so you can find out, from us, what’s really happening, because you can’t always rely on other sources,” Elliot said.

A letter to Colpitts sent by selectmen last month listing concerns about the school and requesting that action to be taken to remedy the situation has not been replied to, Town Manager Amy Bernard said.

Elliot suggested the narrative that has developed about the issue downplays the serious concerns involved. 

SAD 17 board member Mike Dignan at Monday’s meeting said he recognized the seriousness of the issue but was “disappointed” that it was being characterized in a way that implied the district was hiding something. 

The district is having an engineer evaluate the situation and will provide further information to the town as soon as it has something to report. 

“We can’t give you any more information until the engineering outfit gives us their findings and recommendations,” Dignan said. “We, just as you, are waiting to find out, what do they see as the problem and what can be do to correct it?”

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