Town officials have fast tracked a two-phase plan — and close to half a million dollars in financing — to replace 32-year-old underground tanks at the town fuel depot that were “red-tagged” as no longer usable by the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) due to their age.

“The DEEP was very emphatic that this was going to be a project that will take months, not a year. In other words: Get it done now,” First Selectman Rudy Marconi said Monday, after attending a hearing at the DEEP offices in Hartford late last week.

Underground tanks for both gasoline and diesel fuel will be unearthed at the fuel depot near the recycling center on South Street, and a new temporary fueling system is expected to be operational by Friday, April 21, Marconi said. Construction of new, aboveground tanks — as favored by state environmental authorities these days — is expected to take six to eight months.

No leaks have been discovered, Marconi said, and the town has received no fines for being tardy in replacing the old tanks.

A renovation of the fuel depot has been in the town’s five-year capital plan for several years, scheduled for 2018-19 — but it’s now the town’s top capital-spending priority.

Marconi won Board of Finance approval for an immediate $77,100 transfer to handle phase one of the project — tank removal, cleanup, and installation of the temporary fueling system — March 30.

The finance board also agreed to the selectmen’s request to add $400,000 for the larger tank replacement project to the town’s roughly $4-million capital spending plan for 2017-18, a listing of larger projects and purchases that are usually paid for with borrowing in the bond market.

“And I should make clear that $300,000 has been in the capital budget for the 2018-19 fiscal year,” Marconi said.

So it was a matter of increasing the total by $100,000 and moving the expenditure up a year in the calendar.

The $77,100 was transferred from a police department salary account that is projected to show a surplus for the current 2016-17 fiscal year. The $400,000 is expected to come before voters in the capital spending questions that are part of the budget referendum in early May.

Hartford hearing

Marconi first outlined the situation to the finance board Tuesday, March 28.

Two days later, at the hearing in Hartford, the town was asked to address two issues: Did it plan to contest the claim and when did it anticipate the problem could be resolved?

Before going to Hartford with the first selectman, town engineer Charles Fisher and assistant engineer Jake Muller had gotten cost estimates for both the immediate and longer term work from True Blue Environmental of Wallingford.

“As part of the hearing, our conversation focused on a timeline for the entire project,” Marconi said. “As a result of that conversation, and those we had with the environmental company, a not-to-exceed date of April 21 has been agreed to, and this will be phase one … the setting up of the temporary tanks, the transfer of the fuel from the existing to the new tanks, the decommissioning of the old tanks, and the removal of the old tanks. Plus, the hole where the tanks will be removed from will be backfilled with town-supplied dirt, with the understanding the town will do everything within our ability to reduce the cost of the job.”

Costs

The estimated total cost of phase one is $77,100, Marconi said.

“Of course, this does not include any potential necessary removal of contaminated soil,” he added. “However, since the fuel depot is adjacent to the landfill, it is questionable as to how far we would be required to dig, or excavate, given the nature of that entire area.

“There’s no reason to think there was a leak, other than a potential spill that could possibly have occurred during a filling. And we don’t know about that,” Marconi said.

“And we won’t be 100% sure until the tanks are removed and the surrounding earth — if there is any, given that it’s landfill — is investigated.”

Phase two will incorporate the purchase of two new ASTs — aboveground storage tanks — and their installation.

“Any leaks that may occur with the tanks will be contained in the vault, all above ground,” Marconi said.

“So the new tanks — 6,000 gallons, gas, and 12,000 gallons, diesel fuel, will be spec’d as part of a bid process that will be completed as soon as possible, so that the tanks and the new system will be installed ASAP, hopefully during the summer months, complying with the request that the project be complete in six to seven months,” Marconi said.

“For phase two our estimated cost is $400,000, and it will include not only the new tanks and vaults, but all the piping, new dispensers. And we will keep the current canopy, to save money, and repaint it, and update the fire suppression system, etc. — those components.

“If people are wondering: ‘Why Ridgefield?’ ” he said, "other towns are experiencing the same thing.”

Marconi added that aging tanks at one of the State Police stations have also been under DEEP scrutiny.

“None of us knew that there was a drop dead date,” he said. “And the irony in this whole thing is that in 2016 you were able to apply for a 10-year extension of fuel tank life, as long as you were in compliance with all the requirements of testing. But since our tanks were expired in 2015 we were considered non-compliant and therefore precluded from applying for an extension of 10 years.”

The town was surprised not by the need to replace the aging tanks, but by the state’s urgency about the matter.

“The DEEP said they sent a couple of letters in 2012. They didn’t have who they sent them to. That supposedly was the notification we were given,” Marconi said. “And I was not about to argue that.”