Oil spill triggers learning opportunity

There are few combinations of words that conjure up worse man-made environmental nightmares than “oil spill.”

But for three boys it was a chance to become an environmental sleuth and watch as city staff took swift action to clean-up an unfortunate mess in a best case scenario.

Attracted by a strong stench while playing in the woods Saturday, Jan. 29, Patrick Jackson, 12, his brother Will Patrick, 10, and friend Tate Providence followed their noses to a stream that didn’t seem quite right. Upon seeing murky oil pooling in the water, they told their parents, who alerted city workers about a potential oil spill.

“You could smell it from a really far distance, and we play back there a lot,” said Jackson. “They’d already took care of it when we told them and the stream is clearing up.”

City staff became aware of the issue two days earlier when a Public Works employee discovered it on Wyatt Way near the Lovell intersection.

Just under two gallons of heating oil were released in the spill and confined to the city’s MS4 (city’s separate storm sewer system). No additional material was discovered downstream, but city employees did trace the spill upstream to its apparent source.

The heating fuel company that serviced the property alerted the homeowners, who contacted the city and arranged to have their leaking underground storage tank emptied and decommissioned on Jan. 28.

“The citizens who had this on their property modeled behavior we would like to see from every citizen that finds themselves in this unfortunate situation,” said Public Works Director Lance Newkirk. “They were very responsive to learn their responsibilities and took immediate action to help mitigate the problem.”

Public works staff cleaned up the spilled material on Jan. 31, but left the clean-up material (skimmers) in place in case there was another discharge.

Newkirk suggested other islanders should take a proactive step in case this situation occurs on their land.

Through the Pollution Liability Insurance Agency (PLIA), created by the state government in 1989, an insurance program was created to help homeowners who are legally responsible for cleanup if a tank leaks, and aren’t covered through private insurance companies.

Wherever the tank is located, it must be registered in the current owner’s name.

Interested homeowners must complete a free registration with PLIA. For more information contact 1-800-822-3905 or

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