August 18, 2019
News Latest News | Chellie Pingree | Bangor Metro | Paupers' Grave | Today's Paper

Otisfield oil spill caused by thief cutting copper tubing, officials say

OTISFIELD, Maine — Crews continued to work this week to remove contaminated soil from the Otisfield Community School after someone cut the copper tubing from an oil and propane tank over Thanksgiving Day weekend in an apparent attempt to sell the scrap metal.

The copper tubing was estimated by school Superintendent Rick Colpitts to be worth only about $30, but the damage being caused by the cleanup of more than 100 gallons of spilled oil is expected to cost hundreds if not thousands of dollars. The cost includes removal of a portable classroom to accommodate the necessary removal of contaminated soil.

Officials said the thief took a bolt cutter and snipped copper tubing that went to outside oil and propane tanks feeding two portable classrooms on the east side of the main school. One attempt was unsuccessful because the tubing was buried in the ground, but another attempt to get the tubing was successful.

About half a tank full of No. 4 fuel oil leaked from the encased 240-gallon oil tank when the line was cut outside the encasement, Jon Woodard of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection said.

On Tuesday, the DEP, with the assistance of Boom Technology, a 24-hour emergency response team out of Gorham, began digging the site, which is on a 15-foot strip of land between two portable classrooms on the east side of the school. But after a hole an estimated 8 feet deep and 10 feet wide had been dug, workers determined on Wednesday that it would be necessary to move one of two portable classrooms from the site to allow them access to the contaminated dirt under that unit. The classroom was moved to the back of the school’s parking lot on Thursday afternoon.

Because the soil is hard silt, it is hard to dig, Woodard said.

“You can’t plan for vandalism,” Woodard said of future plans to protect the site that could include using a partial iron pipe.

While the school’s insurance and the DEP’s own insurance program for such environmental problems will cover the costs of the cleanup, Colpitts said the school will have to test the water over the next six months to make sure no oil has gone into the private well. No cost has been determined yet.

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