Website created to track Wallagrass gas spill cleanup

Posted July 19, 2011, at 7:58 p.m.

WALLAGRASS, Maine — Roughly six weeks after 5,000 gallons of gasoline spilled along a community roadway, the state Department of Environmental Protection continues its cleanup effort and has created a website to keep residents updated on the results.

Samantha Depoy-Warren, spokesperson for the DEP, said Tuesday that the website’s creation comes on the heels of an informal meeting that attracted about 50 people to the Wallagrass Elementary School last month. The meeting was held so that residents could garner more information about the cleanup and its long-term impact on the community.

The new website,http://maine.gov/dep/rwm/wallagrass/, is part of the DEP’s effort to effectively communicate with the public, Depoy-Warren said Tuesday.

The spill took place on May 31 after a tractor-trailer belonging to the John T. Noble trucking company of Caribou overturned on Route 11. Investigators said that a medical problem led the truck’s driver, Joe Nichols, to lose control of the vehicle after it drifted into the soft shoulder of the roadway and became unstable.

The truck was hauling 8,000 gallons of gasoline for Daigle Oil Co. of Fort Kent at the time of the crash. An estimated 5,000 gallons spilled and seeped into the ground when a tank was breached.

The DEP is working with private contractors to collect and treat any gasoline-contaminated water and to pull gasoline from the ground.

Depoy-Warren said that DEP staffers felt that the recent informational meeting was “quite positive,” although residents felt that the situation and the search for fuel was “frustrating.” But she added that those who attended the meeting agreed with the DEP that the department and other contractors were working hard to remedy the situation as quickly as possible. Residents also have expressed concern about the impact of the potential spill on property values.

In addition to the creation of the new website, the department has named Andrew Flint as spill site project manager. Flint, an environmental specialist in the Bureau of Remediation & Waste Management, has extensive experience managing large remediation projects, according to Depoy-Warren.

Flint will be the primary department contact for members of the community and for Stantec, the environmental consultant hired by the the trucking company’s insurance company to handle site remediation.

Staff from the DEP has been working since the spill to monitor possible contamination of nearby wells. Crews found the presence of petroleum compounds above maximum exposure guidelines at one well directly adjacent to the spill site and trace concentrations of contamination at three others. At this point, only one well exceeds the standards, but the DEP has installed temporary treatment filters at the water’s point of entry to further safeguard public health.

As part of the cleanup effort, crews also have drilled recovery and monitoring wells. Depoy-Warren said that at least 600 gallons of gasoline has been pulled from the ground and the recovery wells. She added that not all of the gasoline spilled will be recovered, as a substantial portion will volatilize into the air, dissolve into water and stick to rock and soil.

The new monitoring wells will be sampled this week with the results providing more information about the extent and concentration of contaminants in groundwater. The new wells also will provide information regarding the horizontal and vertical movement of groundwater in the subsurface. The data will help geologists and engineers develop a better understanding of where the contamination is, how it might be moving and guide cleanup actions moving forward.

Depoy-Warren said the department still can’t say how long the cleanup effort will take because it does not yet know enough about the location of the remainder of the underground contamination.

“We want Wallagrass residents to be confident and comfortable in the fact that we will remain focused on ensuring the protection of their health and, collaboratively with Stantec, other contractors and the responsible party, bringing this remedial action to a close in a way that is safest and most effective for the community and for the environment,” she said Tuesday. “And we want the community to know we are working to ensure their continued safety and are grateful for the care and concern of the responsible party and related contractors.”

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