2018-01-24 / Front Page

County to seek bids for cleanup of oil spill along Warm Springs Run

by Kate Shunney

A ditch along Warm Springs Run collects heating oil that spilled into the ground from a nearby tank. A ditch along Warm Springs Run collects heating oil that spilled into the ground from a nearby tank. The Morgan County Commission voted during a special meeting on Friday, January 19 to seek bids to clean up a home heating oil spill at a private lot along Warm Springs Run in Berkeley Springs.

Following a conference call with a regional EPA official and an in-person meeting with a West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) official, the commissioners decided to move ahead with the spill cleanup.

Heating fuel that leaked from an oil tank in November was contained before it seeped into Warm Springs Run, just yards away. County officials hired an environmental contractor to dig an interceptor ditch to stop the oil from reaching the run. County staff and emergency responders used absorbent booms and straw to further contain the oil.

Miller Environmental also used a probe to measure how deep the oil had saturated the ground around an aging mobile home at the property. The oil tank feeds the trailer heating system.

But in December, the county opted to halt any further cleanup, as they questioned who would pay for the work.

County officials were told the property owner’s insurance wouldn’t pay for any cleanup or damages.

On Friday, Don McLaughlin of the EPA reassured the commissioners that it was likely any expenses put out to finish cleaning up the spill would be reimbursed by a federal pollution response fund.

“The funding is there. I can’t say you’ll get 100% of it, but I can’t imagine you won’t,” McLaughlin told Morgan County officials.

According to McLaughlin, the county will most likely be paid back the money it spent on containing the oil and any future money it spends on cleaning up the spill site.

He said once the site is cleaned up to the satisfaction of the DEP, the county should prepare a final bill for all excavation, materials, labor and DEP cleanup expenses. Next, the county must submit that bill to the property owner. The owner has 90 days to either pay for some or all of the costs, or to notify the county they can’t pay. At that point, the bill would be submitted to the National Pollution Fund, with a letter from the EPA certifying the cleanup is complete.

So far, the county has spent roughly $40,000 to address the oil spill.

Commission President Joel Tuttle questioned why the county was spending money to clean up a piece of private property, saying the owner is the responsible party.

Commissioner Bob Ford said he believes the county needs to finish the cleanup, including removing the tainted soil under and around the trailer. He said that work should be done before springs rains set in and wash contaminants out of the interceptor ditch and into the run.

“We have a moral obligation to get this corrected,” Ford said.

DEP supervisor Gerald Crispino confirmed that his recommendation would be to remove the oil-soaked dirt from the site. He said another option is to let the oil continue to seep into the interceptor ditch. That could go on for a year or two, he said.

Kate Lehman of the Warm Springs Watershed Association said the group appreciates how quickly the county acted to stop the spill from entering the run, and efforts to “make sure this doesn’t happen again.”

Tuttle and Ford said the County Planning office has been asked how to tackle the issue of leaking oil tanks in floodplain areas.

“It’s happened twice in three years. It’s going to happen again,” said Tuttle.

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