Study of contaminated soil will cost Athol nearly $90,000

The spot at the rear of the Millers River Environmental Center where a 1,000-gallon oil tank was removed last year. A leak discovered in the tank during the removal will require the town to undertake environmental remediation of the soil.

The spot at the rear of the Millers River Environmental Center where a 1,000-gallon oil tank was removed last year. A leak discovered in the tank during the removal will require the town to undertake environmental remediation of the soil. PHOTO BY GREG VINE

By GREG VINE

For the Athol Daily News

Published: 03-03-2024 5:00 PM

ATHOL – A small hole has caused a nearly $90,000 problem at the Millers River Environmental Center (MREC) in Athol.

The problem was discovered when a 1,000-gallon underground oil tank was removed from the property at 100 Main St. last summer. An inspector hired to oversee the removal spotted a small hole in the bottom of the tank which had held oil used to heat the former school building.

Town officials were unsure just how long the tank had been in place.

David Small, president of the Athol Bird & Nature Club (ABNC), which operates out of the MREC, said early tests indicate that oil from the tank leaked into the soil but did not spread out laterally, which could have resulted in a larger area of contamination. Under a 1999 agreement with the town, the ABNC maintains the building, which was constructed in 1889.

Small said the initial cost of removing the old tank was $6,000, as was the installation of a new double-walled tank in the MREC’s basement. The full cost of the removal and installation, he said, was paid for out of the town’s building maintenance account.

“Maybe three years ago, we learned that for code reasons we needed to replace the oil tank and put a new tank inside the building,” said Town Manager Shaun Suhoski. “We got that done, but as part of that, we needed to look at the old underground storage tank and remove it. We hoped for the best, but when they took the tank out of the ground there as a quarter-inch hole in it. We don’t know how long the hole had been there, but there was evidence of petroleum contamination on that site.”

Suhoski said that as a result of the contamination, the town had to file notice with the state Department of Environmental Protection. A limited cleanup was undertaken, followed by additional testing. The testing, according to Suhoski, revealed the need for more extensive cleanup. Remediation will require removal of contaminated soil from the site and disposal at a licensed facility.

“We have to hire a licensed site professional to manage this for DEP,” Suhoski said. “We’re looking at pretty substantial costs. It wasn’t a happy kind of surprise when we found that hole in the tank. We’re looking at about $89,000 for the next phase. Then there will be an additional set of testing, because they went down 16 feet and the groundwater is below that.”

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Suhoski said the town’s site professional is hopeful that removal of the soil will result in complete remediation of the problem. Once that work is done, it’s possible that monitoring wells will need to be established.

“It’s not cheap, but on the plus side, nobody wants an oil tank leaking into groundwater that goes into the Millers River,” said Suhoski. “It was just an old single-walled tank – kind of a legacy inheritance. So, it’s unfortunate. The engineer said it had been leaking for quite some time.”

Small said a lining was placed in the hole that once held the old tank before it was refilled with clean soil.

“So, that (new) soil will be able to be used again,” he said. “It won’t have to go to a hazardous waste site like the contaminated soil they’re going to have to dig up and remove from the site. It’ll be re-used as fill.”

Town officials haven’t yet decided where the money to pay for the cleanup will come from. In an exchange of emails, Finance and Warrant Advisory Committee Chair Ken Duffy told the Athol Daily News that the committee would be looking at the reserve account, which has a balance of $103,000.

“Depending on what other end-of-year fiscal issues we may have, we would try to cover the whole amount or a portion of the approximately $89,000 needed,” Duffy wrote. “It remains to be seen what we can do. We should have a better feeling about the status of departmental budgets by mid-April.”

Suhoski said the reserve fund is for unforeseen or extraordinary expenses. He plans on going before the FinCom at its meeting in late March to discuss the issue.

“When we get an unwelcome surprise, it’s good to have that reserve fund available,” he said. “That’s something we’re going to take a hard look at.”

Greg Vine can be reached at gvineadn@gmail.com.