Fuel depot work found no leaks, Marconi says

Gasoline and diesel fuel levels in underground storage tanks at Ridgefield’s fuel depot were checked periodically by the town — showing no signs of leaks — First Selectman Rudy Marconi said. And officials were aware that the tanks reached their 30-year life expectancy, he said, and had plans a replace them before the state “red-tagged” the tanks in late March, moving the replacement project up from “next year” to “right away.’”

“There was no spillage,” Marconi said Monday, April 24. “The tanks have been excavated and the hole has been refilled.

“However, we will have to remove some of the excavated material, and not because of fuel contamination, but because it was part of the landfill — bottles, papers, pieces of wood. All of that has to be removed and disposed of properly.”

Marconi was confident $400,000 job at the fuel depot work will be finished fairly soon.

“Nothing like the bridge project,” he said, referring to the state’s year-long, traffic slowing work on Route 35 by the Fox Hill condominiums.

Response to critics

Asked to respond to letters to the editor critical of the town’s handling of the tanks, Marconi said the town’s removal project came in response to the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP).

“There’s no indication they ever leaked. We do monthly testing,” he said. “The tanks are inspected, and gallonage is balanced each and every day.

“The people who wrote the letters just are making assumptions,” Marconi said. “The fact is that we do monitor all of the tanks in town, and we were fully aware they needed to come out — but we were never told by the DEEP they had to be out by a date certain.”

An April 3 letter, Dave Scott wrote: “A 15-year-old underground storage tank is old by today’s standards. Ridgefield’s more than 30-year-old fuel depot underground storage tanks represent a significant risk of soil and and groundwater contamination … Is no one managing environmental compliance in town?

“... The risks to environmental quality posed by the town’s obsolete fuel depot has been allowed to persist within a short distance of the Great Swamp, a major wetland within town.”

Marconi said the area on the southwest side corner of Great Swamp had long been environmentally compromised.

“It was the original site of the dump that was encapsulated the late 1980s,” he said. “... the tanks are adjacent to that.”

The town had the fuel depot renovation on its five-year capital plan for next year, 2018-19.

“They were slated for removal in 2019. We know exactly how old they were and we monitor them all the time,” Marconi said.

“The standard is 30 years, not 15,” Marconi added.

The ability of tanks to last underground for longer times was demonstrated, state legislature passed a law, effective June 2016, that allowed the life of the many underground tanks to be extended another 10 years, Marconi said. He did not deny that Ridgefield’s tanks exceeded the state limit.

“We didn’t qualify because our tanks had expired in December of 2015,” he said.

“In order to qualify you had to be in compliance.”

Late in March a DEEP inspector visited and ordered the fuel depot shut down. Marconi had to attend a hearing on it in Hartford, but didn’t contest the fact that the tanks were past 30 years old.

Another letter writer wondered why the tanks hadn’t been replaced before it got the point of the state ordering them taken out of use because they were more than 30 years old.

“If the town leadership was unaware of this rather significant detail, it represents one of the more appalling examples of government neglect and incompetence I can think of,” Robertson Bennett wrote in a letter published April 13.

“We knew when they were put in. We have the records,” Marconi said.

Age of tanks

The age of the tanks shouldn’t have been a surprise to the state, either, he said.

“We have to apply to re-register the tanks every year. And we did that in January. In March, we got a letter back, thanking us for our $400 check and informing us of our new registration number.”.

In his letter, Bennett also blamed the town and the state for situation in which taxpayers now have to pay $70,000 for the rental of temporary fuel tanks during the weeks the old ones are being replaced.

“... It is hard to face higher taxes with the knowledge our taxes are being needlessly wasted,” he wrote.

Marconi said the state had simply adopted a more hard-ball attitude on underground fuel tanks — with a number of towns and agencies.

“They shut the state police down,” he said.

The fuel depot renovation was in the town’s five-year capital spending plan as a $300,000 project slated for 2018-19. Now it’s moved up a year, and the the expected cost was increased for $400,000 — with an additional $77,100 for the temporary fueling system in use while the work is being done.

The $77,100 was transferred from another account in this year’s budget, and the $400,000 will be on the referendum ballot that comes before voters May 9.

“We’re doing what the state wants done,” Marconi said. “And instead of spending the money in 2019, well be spending it in the 2018 fiscal year — if the voters approve, which I hope they do.”

The work is already begun.