PATTEN, Maine — For the second time in just over two months, a major cleanup effort is being undertaken here to protect the town’s water supply.
The state Department of Environmental Protection, working closely with the town and the Maine Rural Water Association, began overseeing a project Wednesday to replace about 30 home heating oil tanks in the wellhead protection area of the Patten Water Department.
The antiquated, rusty and unstable oil tanks are substandard, according to DEP Environmental Engineer Peter Moulton and need to be replaced in order to better protect the community’s drinking water, which comes from a well maintained by the water department.
The old tanks are being replaced by new tanks made of thick polyethylene plastic and surrounded by a sheet metal jacket. Moulton said the new double-wall tanks will not rust and, in the rare case of a leak, will provide “secondary containment” to capture any oil that escapes the primary tank.
“The DEP responds to an average of one spill a day from residential above-ground home heating oil tanks,” Moulton said recently. “The Number One cause is internal corrosion. Replacing a rusty steel tank with one that will not rust just makes good sense.”
A 2009 law prevents the agencies collaborating on the project from simply replacing the old oil tanks with new tanks of the same type. The new law requires new or replacement home heating oil tanks within the wellhead protection area of a community water supply well to be “double-wall” or have “secondary containment.”
Since spills from corroded home heating oil tanks, broken filters and overfills often contaminate wells, the new law aims to prevent such spills.
Moulton said such spills cost the state $1 million to $2 million a year.
The tank replacement work kicked off Wednesday.
That project comes on the heels of another that was conducted here in early October to protect the town water supply.
That’s when officials with the DEP and the federal Environmental Protection Agency oversaw demolition of the approximately 75-year-old Patten General Store to facilitate the removal of three underground petroleum storage tanks and contaminated soil discovered during an excavation in August.
The underground tanks at the former store and gas station were located less than 600 feet from the town’s drinking water supply.
The latest project is being financed through a grant from the state’s Ground Water Cleanup Fund established in 1990. The fund was created for just this purpose, Moulton said Tuesday evening.