Midtown Manhattan Condo Board Files Suit Over 8,000-Gallon Oil Spill

Midtown Manhattan Condo Board Files Suit Over 8,000-Gallon Oil Spill

Source: http://www.habitatmag.com, February 17, 2014
By: Frank Lovece

The Sheffield 57, a nearly 600-unit condominium at 322 West 57th Street in Manhattan, has sued its managing agent, an engineering firm and others following the accidental discharge of thousands of gallons of heating oil after what the condo board called “a series of missteps that created a ‘perfect storm'” causing $3 million in damages, cleanup costs and other expenses.

The complaint, filed Jan. 27, names manager Rose Associates; Lawless & Mangione Architects and Engineers; the oil company Hess; Leardon Boiler Works, of The Bronx; Rite Way Tank Maintenance, of Brooklyn; and Petroleum Services, Inc., of Franklin Lakes, N.J.

Richard Shea, a spokesperson for Rose, said the firm would have no comment. Phil Silverglate, president of Petroleum Services, called it “a stupid lawsuit about something that wasn’t our fault” and declined further comment until he could speak with his company’s attorney. Hess spokesperson Jon Pepper said the corporation does not comment on pending litigation. The other companies did not respond to phone and e-mail requests for comment.

8,000 of 4

The condo board of The Sheffield 57 alleges that on Oct. 15, 2012, approximately 8,000 gallons of No. 4 heating oil intended for what the building designates Tank 1 instead spilled into the underground vault, soaking through its concrete walls and floor. It reached the gravel layer underneath, the suit said, and migrated onto the property next-door, the landmark Hearst Tower. at 300 W. 57th Street.

Rodney Rivera, a spokesperson with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation said at the time that the building’s heating system, which was converting from No. 6 to cleaner-burning No. 4 heating oil, “wasn’t really built to catch as much as was coming in, so a bunch got into the basement floor itself.”

According to the lawsuit, the condominium has several oil-fueled boilers fed by four 20,000-gallon above-ground storage tank (ASTs). Each tank has its own fill line running from ports on the sidewalk of the building’s West 56th Street side. In July 2012, Rose Associates hired Lawless & Mangione to develop and produce a technical specification to convert its boilers to work with No. 4 oil.

The board said that prior to August 2012, its boiler room, following New York State law, provided a fail-safe “secondary containment” in case of spills from the 80,000 gallons of oil stored there. No. 6 is very thick and viscous, however, and any secondary containment walls would now have to be less porous, so as to be able to contain freer-flowing No. 4. Lawless & Mangione, the suit says, did not provide specs to upgrade those containment walls.

Time-Traveling Tech Specs

The suit does also say, confusingly, that in June 2012 — a month before seeking the technical specification from Lawless & Mangione — “Rose circulated the technical specification to a number of contractors to solicit bids” to convert the heating system from No. 6 to No. 4. Leardon Boiler Works won the contract and subcontracted part of the job to Rite Way Tank Maintenance. That company was assigned to “cut open and clean the fill lines … as well as cut open and clean each of the four ASTs” and then weld close all the cuts. Rite Way began work on or about that August

The board claims that unbeknownst to anyone else at the time, Rite Way failed to stop oil from being pumped into the fill line for Tank 1, and that after cleaning that tank, did not reconnect the fill line to it. The company nonetheless said the job was finished, and Leardon and Rose signed off on it.

Believing all was well, Rose arranged for an 8,000-gallon oil delivery from Hess on Oct. 15. 2012; Hess’ assigned its agent, Petroleum Services, Inc. The board alleges that Rose Associates’ onsite contact person left the building after confirming the oil truck arrived but wasn’t there for actual pumping of the oil. But the driver, the board said, did not follow State oil-delivery regulations designed to prevent spills:

Whistle While You Work

“The usual method of monitoring is to ensure that an audible whistle is heard from the tank vent to confirm that air is being displaced in the tank and, thus, that oil is reaching the oil tank. If no whistle is heard, the oil deliverer must immediately abort the oil deliver. This requirement is colloquially referred to in the industry as the ‘No Whistle, No Fill’ policy.”

Since Rite Way allegedly hadn’t been reconnected the fill line, no whistle would have sounded. Without a management person, a super or even a board person there to monitor the pumping and serve as backstop in case the driver was careless, the final piece of the “perfect storm” hit.

The spill was discovered within two hours and cleanup began the next day. It was continuing 10 days later, much to the consternation of neighbors — who even before this had accused The Sheffield 57 of allowing trucks and boiler-conversion equipment to spew fumes and exhaust in the area for hours at a time. The DEC, following standard procedure investigated, but spokesperson Rivera, speaking the day after the spill and long before the DEC had reached any conclusions, claimed, “There was no real fault” and “was just a couple of bad mishaps” occurring spontaneously.

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