Danbury continues to clean up oil spill at school

Source: www.newstimes.com, March 24, 2010, Dirk Perrefort, Staff Writer

Work crews this week are cleaning up an oil spill behind Broadview Middle School, an effort that could cost as much as $1 million.

Antonio Iadarola, director of the city’s Public Works Department, said the cleanup cost would be difficult to estimate until crews begin excavating the contaminated soil.

The spill was discovered March 15 after an oil pipe burst inside the school’s boiler room. About 1,800 gallons of heating oil leaked into a floor drain that was attached to a nearby storm basin outside the building. The basin empties into a steep swale in the woods behind the school.

The spill, which occurred during heavy rain, flowed downhill and into the nearby Danbury Hospital parking lot as well as onto a small corner of a playground at the Interfaith Early Learning Center on Osborne Street.

Iadarola said his crew has collected between 800 to 1,000 gallons of the leaked oil. The remainder is in the soil.

Workers began clear-cutting trees along the swale so excavation equipment can be brought in to dig up the contaminated soil. A pipe also was placed near the area to divert storm water so the swale can be excavated.

The steep incline along the edges of the swale, Iadarola said, make excavation especially difficult.

Iadarola said an 8-foot probe showed the contamination was only about a foot deep in some areas but at least 8 feet deep in others.

The public works director said he’s working with other local officials to see if the city’s insurance company will cover some of the cleanup costs.

“I’ve just been notified that about $50,000 may be covered,” Iadarola said. “We probably spent that much in the first day. The total cost could reach $1 million, but it’s very difficult to estimate at this point.”

Andrea Rynn, a spokeswoman for Danbury Hospital, said the impact of the spill on hospital property appears minimal, and hospital officials “have all confidence the city is moving quickly and appropriately.”

Karen Thompson, director of the Interfaith Early Learning Center, could not be reached for comment.

Iadarola said the spill affected only a small corner of the center’s playground, and the area has been contained and sectioned off.

He added that the city is in contact with the state Department of Environmental Protection, which is monitoring the spill cleanup efforts.

Mayor Mark Boughton said a $1 million price tag for the cleanup may be possible, “but we just don’t know. It will be expensive, no question about it.”

Boughton said insurance companies typically don’t pay for environmental damage, as was the case when the city settled a lawsuit involving the Danbury landfill for $1.8 million.

“We have our legal staff working very hard on it right now,” he said.

Boughton said the cost could be paid out of the city’s fund balance, or if the amount is more significant, a bond could be issued to pay the bill.

The city is issuing a bond to pay for the $1.8 million settlement, and it has a $3 million limit on annual bonding established in the charter changes approved last fall.

Even if a bond has to be issued to pay for the cleanup, Boughton said he isn’t worried.

“Unfortunately, it’s an act of God situation, and there isn’t much we can do,” he said. “Our debt service is low, so this shouldn’t be an issue.”

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