2015-02-13 / Front Page

EPA fines city

By Duke Harrington
Staff Writer

SOUTH PORTLAND — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has fined South Portland $10,600 for violations of oil pollution prevention regulations at three city locations.

However, the fines are largely for failure to complete action plans in place under the EPA’s spill prevention control and countermeasure, or SPCC rules, which fall under the federal Clean Water Act. Although EPA inspectors ruled during a summer 2014 site visit that the school department lacked “adequate secondary containment” measures for the above-ground oil storage tanks at its bus maintenance facility on Highland Avenue, no actual spills were found.

The balance of the fines were related to incomplete paperwork — documentation that, in the school’s case at least, was in progress when the EPA checked in on June 27, 2014.

“There were two documents that were being completed and we worked on the wrong one faster,” said the school’s director of buildings and grounds, Russ Brigham, at the Feb. 9 school board meeting.

The school department completed its required planning and confirmed secondary containment measures were in place by Oct. 7. Nevertheless, the EPA assigned a $4,300 fine.

Other sites drawing fines were the public works facility on O’Neil Street ($4,200) and a wastewater pump station ($2,100).

“The violations were small and we have since corrected them,” said City Manager Jim Gailey, in a Feb. 6 interview. “There were no spills at all. It was just a surprise visit to see if everything was in place to meet regulations.”

Gailey said the city’s portion of the fines got paid in late January, drawing on wastewater and public works contingency accounts.

“We didn’t appeal it because if you appeal then you open yourself up to possibly bigger fines,” he said.

The school fine was paid out of the department’s contingency line for building maintenance.

Meanwhile, Gailey said the city was unable to secure a brownfield grant for site assessment at the public works complex. It is instead moving on with phase II of an environmental assessment of the site.

“We’re working with the Department of Environmental Protection on the location of coring pits for soil tests,” Gailey said. “That’s taken a little bit longer than we thought, but once DEP signs off we’ll commence with soil testing.”

Gailey said the city is working with DEP to divide the phase II testing into sections, which could potentially save it some money if early tests show additional work to be unnecessary.

“The way we scoped it out gives us some flexibility, but that means we won’t know the true cost until it’s all over with. It’s not one lump sum,” Gailey said.

However, when asked to ballpark the phase II assessment cost, Gailey gave a range of $40,000 to $60,000. That money was included in the capital improvement projects budget approved by the city council two years ago.

Construction of a new $15.5 million public services complex is slated to go out to bid in March 2016. Voters approved borrowing $14 million for the project in November 2013, but the city held off on bonding until some current bonds are paid off, in order to mitigate any tax increase from the project.

“As we have it calculated right now, it will add 7 cents to the tax rate the first year and 2 cents the second. Then, after that, it sheds pennies each year, because we’ll just be taking some debt that we’re paying off and sliding it over,” Gailey said.

Once construction is complete, the city will seek to sell off or redevelop the 6-acre O’Neil Street complex, used by the public works department since the 1930s. Hence, the current work to determine what contaminants, if any, may exist in soils at the site.

Although it will be at least a year before hammers start to swing on the new public services complex, the first phase of the project already is underway.

Gailey said relocation of the Highland Avenue transfer station, a move needed to make room for the new building, “will be going out to bid in a matter of weeks.” Work on the move is expected to begin by the end of the year, he said.

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