PARIS — Selectmen have requested the school district limit the amount of oil stored at in a tank at the Paris Elementary School to reduce the likelihood of oil seeping into the town’s wellhead protection zone. In a unanimous vote on Monday, selectmen agreed to send a letter to SAD 17 Superintendent Rick Colpitts asking that the volume of oil in the school’s 11,400 tank be limited to 1,000 gallons or a weeks worth of oil – whichever is greater.

Selectmen have expressed serious concerns over the tank’s condition as its leg supports show signs of “severe corrosion’ and its underside show signs of rust, according to a DEP report filed earlier this month.

Selectmen are concerned that the tank’s condition poses an “imminent’ risk, and want to take measures to ensure an incident does not occur.

The Maine Department of Environmental Protection believes the corrosion was caused by blow back water discharged from the oil tank, though groundwater may also be seeping into the concrete bunker room the tank sits in, selectmen Samuel Elliot suggested.

At risk, Elliot said, is the town’s water supply.

“We’ve got a tremendous asset there that we’re not taking much advantage of except that we’ve got darn good water, and plenty of it,” Elliot said.

“If the bottom of that tank lets go we’ll have a mess that we’ll never see the end of,” he said.

Selectmen Robert Wessels suggested the board act to limit the amount of oil present at any time in the tank in order to mitigate the risk of oil discharging into the delicate wellhead zone. The town’s Wellhead Protection Ordinance, he noted, pertained specifically to tanks 1,000 gallons or more.

Selectmen’s actions come in the wake of an accidental oil spill at the Hebron Station Elementary School in December, in which more than 1,500 gallons discharged beneath the school.

The event prompted selectmen to take a look at Paris Elementary Schools’ tank, and following a tour of the facility by Elliot and Town Manager Amy Bernard, selectmen raised concerns that the tank was in poor condition.

Selectmen issued a letter to the school district, asking to be kept up-to-date with developments.

Shortly after, the DEP issued a 12-page report recommending a series of changes to the schools oil storage practices, including having an engineer inspect Paris’ tank and adopting federally-mandated Spill Prevent Control and Countermeasure plans at each of its schools.

Since those findings, an engineering firm has been hired to devise an SPCC plan for each school and assess the condition of its tanks. That analysis has not been finished.

Selectmen, however, say those concerns were ignored by school officials. According to Town Manager Amy Bernard, the town has received no response to its letter.

Elliot said he was disappointed with the district’s reaction, and complained the reporting by the local media downplayed the seriousness of the situation.

To keep residents current with information, the town has added a new section to its website.

“I’m afraid, as I mentioned before, we can’t rely on other sources,” Elliot said.

“From the tone of everything, I’m sensing the board will have to stay right on top of this,” he said.

In attendance at the meeting, Paris School Board Director Mike Dignam said he was disappointed at the characterization that the school district was trying to hide information.

Dignam said school officials recognized the seriousness of the situation, but did not have any information to relay because an ongoing engineering evaluation was unfinished. As soon as it had information to report, the findings would be shared, he said.

“We can’t give you any information until the engineering outfit gives us their findings and recommendations,” Dignam said.

“We’re all in the same boat,” he said.

Chairman of the Board of Selectmen Robert Kirchherr said that although such a report would address long-term risks, the town faced an immediate threat.

“If there is an imminent threat than that’s too long,” Kirchherr said.

In an interview Tuesday morning, Colpitts, who had not yet received the town’s request, said he took the situation in Paris seriously and was doing everything possible to resolve it.

“We’re a consumer of the aquifer that Paris wants to protect, and we have a vested interest in protecting it as well. To the best of our ability we’re going to ensure that oil will not be discharged there,” Colpitts said.

Colpitts said that if the Wellhead Protection Ordinance gave Paris the authority to restrict the amount of oil in the schools’ tanks, the district would abide by the order.

“We don’t seek to be bad neighbors,” he said.

He added that although he had not written back to the town, he met with Elliot and the code enforcement officer to update them on the engineers’ schedule last week.

Over April vacation, the tank will be emptied, vented, and an interior and exterior inspection done to tests its integrity, he said.

Engineers at Siemens USA are also assessing the possibility of weening the school away from oil altogether.

Once engineers prioritize what steps to take next, the information will be shared with Paris, Colpitts said.

“It’s hard for us to look at the DEP report and say which is more important; what comes first. I’m not an engineer, I’m not an expert on oil, so we have to rely on the engineers who are experts.”


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