Oak Bluffs diesel fuel geyser
Fuel pumped by mistake into full tank
A fuel deliveryman for the R.M. Packer Company arrived near Oak Bluffs Harbor Sunday morning with diesel fuel to fill an underground tank that was already full.
The fresh fuel pumped into the full tank created enough pressure in the tank to blow a safety valve and send a geyser of pungent diesel fuel into the air and raining down on nearby businesses and at least one passerby.
The unidentified driver was standing next to his truck, parked beside Nancy's Restaurant, to pump fuel into a fill pipe in the alleyway between Jim's Package Store and Nancy's. The fuel tank supplies diesel to a pump owned by the Dockside Marketplace and Marina. The tank is located under a lot covered with sand used for outdoor seating by The Sand Bar and Grill Restaurant.
Because the driver's view of the tank area was blocked by the adjacent buildings, he continued to pump fuel for approximately 10 minutes, unaware that it was leaking out of the tank and into the surrounding soil.
According to local officials, approximately 700 gallons of diesel was released into the area.
Cleanup crews remove contaminated soil from The Sand Bar and Grill's outdoor patio Monday afternoon. Photo by Jon Ollwerther
Dockside Marketplace and Marina owner Terry McCarthy told The Times in a Tuesday telephone conversation that he ordered gasoline, but the Packer employee arrived with diesel fuel.
Mr. McCarthy said the diesel tank is now being checked for damage and leaks. He said he did not know how long it would be before diesel fuel is available in Oak Bluffs harbor.
Ralph M. Packer Jr., owner of R.M. Packer Company, told The Times yesterday that an investigation into the accident is ongoing. He said it remains unclear why the employee arrived with diesel to fill a full diesel tank. It had not been determined if the employee ran a volume test of the diesel tank, which should have shown that the tank was full, he said. Also undetermined is why a warning system did not alert the driver.
Oak Bluffs harbormaster Todd Alexander said Tuesday that no diesel fuel reached the harbor. Oak Bluffs town administrator Michael Dutton said this week that a quick response helped to minimize the damage and keep the fuel from spreading.
A sticky situation
The Packer driver showed up about 8 am Sunday morning.
Witnesses said the spray of fuel, propelled by the wind, landed on the windows of the Washashore Laundry across Circuit Avenue Extension.
A woman who was apparently hit by spray was taken to the Martha's Vineyard Hospital as a precautionary measure.
As the deliveryman pumped the fuel, a harbor department employee noticed the dark fuel coming up from the ground and notified Mr. Alexander of what he thought was a gasoline leak.
Mr. Alexander identified the leak as diesel fuel and alerted the driver to stop pumping. Mr. Alexander then reported the incident to the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).
Oak Bluffs Fire Department emergency management director Peter Martell said his department responded to a call reporting a gasoline smell. He arrived at the Sand Bar around 8:45 am to find that a "lake of diesel fuel" had collected on the cement path abutting the harbor.
However, the fuel had not reached the top of the curb. Firefighters immediately began putting down "speedy dry," an absorbent substance to soak up the liquid and contain its spread.
At the same time, Andy Farrissey of Oak Bluffs, owner of Farrissey Telecom, was walking to his boat and saw the firefighters working to contain the spill. He abandoned his boating plans and went to get his company's trailer-mounted mud vacuum, which he used to suck up fuel and, later, contaminated soil.
By Sunday afternoon, the cleanup effort, which was under the supervision of DEP, included a crew from Clean Harbors Environmental Services, an off-Island company that specializes in cleaning hazardous materials.
Clean Harbors kept Mr. Farrissey on the job in order to use his equipment and brought in two other vacuums to remove soil and fuel from the site.
Because oil floats on water, the diesel fuel remains above groundwater level, said Mr. Farrissey. Once the groundwater is exposed, the crew can vacuum diesel off the water surface, making cleanup easier, he said.
Mr. Martell said that crews expected to remove more than 80 cubic yards of contaminated soil. He called the spill, "a mess that needs to be cleaned up," but noted, "with fortunately very little environmental damage."
Watching the activity Monday, Oak Bluffs Fire Chief Peter Forend told The Times that the tank installation meets requirements under Massachusetts state law and had passed inspection.
Bad for business
The spill was bad timing for nearby businesses. The Sand Bar and Grill suffered extensive damage to its facilities and remained closed as of yesterday, although the adjoining restaurant, Stella at the Sand Bar, has reopened, said co-owner Mark Wallace. He said that the bar side should be reopened by Tuesday.
"We will definitely be open for the shark tournament on Thursday," Mr. Wallace said. After the cleanup is complete, sand and furniture will need to be replaced, he said.
Employees at a neighboring restaurant and bar, the Sugar Shack, reported their business was affected by the smell of diesel fuel that clung to the area.
Michelle Johnson, a Sugar Shack waitress, said on Monday that business was being notably affected and that harbor traffic seemed slow.