Kent oil-spill cleanup

(Original publication: July 14, 2004)

KENT — More than a month after a tanker truck crashed and dumped about 9,000 gallons of heating oil onto Route 52, an environmental cleanup of the spill is concluding while police continue to investigate the cause of the accident.

"The cleanup is progressing, it's going pretty well," said Wendy Rosenbach, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Environmental Conservation, which is overseeing the operation. "Our spill person described it as being in the final stages. We removed most of the contamination and we are doing some monitoring of a nearby stream."

The 18-wheeler from Sclafani Petroleum of Carmel was headed south on Route 52 the morning of June 10 when it rolled onto its side while rounding a corner near Horsepound Road. The tanker lost most of its load of home-heating oil, the bulk of which poured into storm drains that run beneath the road and toward a nearby stream and wetlands.

A quick response from county, state and New York City environmental officials resulted in most of the spillage being contained before it could seep into the ground. Crews managed to contain most of the oil in a wetlands area across from the spill site.

Loretta Molinari, Putnam County's public health director, said representatives from her office identified 10 wells near the spill site that could have been contaminated if the oil had made its way into the ground.

"Although we didn't feel there would be a problem, the wells were sampled and there's no evidence of groundwater contamination," Molinari said. "Most likely, that's because the oil ran into catch basins. ... The oil never really had a chance to get into the ground and the groundwater."

Estimates on the cleanup cost were not available, Rosenbach said. Maureen Sclafani of Sclafani Petroleum has said that her company's insurance should cover the cost.

The results of the police investigation into the crash so far appear to point to driver error, Lt. Alex DiVernieri said.

"It doesn't look like it was anything mechanical, although we are awaiting the final work-up on the truck's internal computers," DiVernieri said yesterday.

The accident and subsequent cleanup caused the Carmel Animal Hospital at 235 Route 52 — directly in front of the crash site — to close for two days. Veterinarian Jack Covitz, who owns and operates the hospital, said it was at least the third time since November that an accident happened on the sharp curve in front of his business.

Covitz, who has had a practice in Putnam County since 1985 and moved to the Route 52 site 12 years ago, said the sign in front of his business was demolished and that a strong odor of home-heating oil still permeates the area. Those problems aside, Covitz said the crash proved to him that the state should straighten out the curve.

"Hopefully, they'll straighten out the road," Covitz said yesterday. "The issue is that my staff always has to look in their rear-view mirror when making the turn into the driveway when coming to work because people drive so fast around that corner. I can't tell you how many accidents there have been since we moved here."

Two Putnam County companies, Dutchess Environmental Protection of Mahopac and EnviroWaste Oil Recovery of Southeast, helped clean up the spill. Aaron Deems, the owner of EnviroWaste, said his company spent several days removing the oil and worked around-the-clock the first few days.

Yesterday, an environmental team from a Long Island company was digging up underground storage tanks at a closed gas station across from the spill site. But Rosenbach said that work was planned before the spill and was not related to the spill.



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Wednesday, January 5, 2005