May 16, 2013

Editorial: Prevent, report future spills


---- — Oil spills are bad for the environment — everyone knows that, right?

Apparently not, as the Town of Ticonderoga did not report a recent spill to the state, as required, and is now facing fines.

Someone recently spilled between 20 and 30 gallons of heating oil on the concrete floor at the Ticonderoga Town Highway Department garage. Members of the highway crew cleaned it up.

That was proper handling of the initial problem, but the next step in procedure was skipped: No one told the State Department of Environmental Conservation about the spill.

Reporting of spills of 5 gallons or greater is required by DEC regulations.

Someone who knew about the spill later called the DEC spill tipline and turned the town in.

Now Ticonderoga is facing up to $500,000 in state fines, at $37,000 a day for the 15 days it was not reported. This is not good news because the town certainly didn’t budget to pay a half-million dollars in fine money for this year.

The underlying question here, of course, is how employees of the Ticonderoga Town Highway Department did not know a spill had to be reported. You may be thinking that town employees can’t be expected to know every regulation the state has in place. But, in this situation, ignorance of the rules is no excuse — the town had been fined just three years ago for not reporting a previous spill.

Wasn’t that last spill still fresh in their minds? How was it that a valve was not being monitored when heating fuel was being transferred from one tank to another?

A simple phone call would probably have averted most of the problems that this is causing for the town. (It should be noted that the town says Highway Superintendent Michael Parent wasn’t there when the spill occurred and apparently was not told about it upon his return.)

The entire nation became attuned to the destructive nature of oil through two infamous spills: the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound, Alaska, in March 1989 and the Deepwater Horizon (British Petroleum) spill in April 2010.

We certainly aren’t comparing this relatively minor incident in Ticonderoga with those huge disasters, but the point is, with those spills still haunting the world, everyone is aware of the possibility of environmental harm when oil escapes containment.

We hope the town hasn’t let this incident rest and that a complete investigation will take place, with the public informed of the outcome. Measures must be put in place to prevent future spills, and all employees should be educated on the proper notification procedure.

The town owes that to its residents — and everyone else who cares about the environment.