Just months after spending more than $250,000 to clean up a fuel spill caused by vandals, Long Painting Company of Kent, WA, is facing two more bills: $10,000 to cover the state’s cleanup costs and a $1,600 fine from the Washington State Department of Ecology.
“I don’t want to call it eco-terrorism, but lots of folks don’t like progress of any kind,” Long vice president John Fisher said Monday (Jan. 24).
The mess began about 10:30 p.m. April 29 at Dash Point State Park, where the industrial painting contractor was stripping and repainting the F.B. Hoit and Joes Creek Bridges.
A Long company foreman inspecting the equipment noticed a sheen on the ground by the company’s 1,000-gallon diesel fuel tank, which was set up in a construction staging area on a parking lot.
The tank was used to fill equipment on the painting job, and it had just been filled four or five hours earlier. A park ranger arrived on the scene of the spill about the same time as the foreman, and the painting company sprang into action, immediately summoning an environmental clean-up firm, NRC Environmental Services.
Fisher said the tank had been surrounded by an eight-foot temporary fence, but one or more people somehow got through the fence, unscrewed the glass sight valve between the tank and the pump, and set the fuel flowing across the parking lot, then into Thames Creek and out into Puget Sound, Fisher said.
The spill eventually created a half-mile by half-mile sheen on the Sound, officials said.
No one was arrested in the incident. Fisher said the park ranger had chased a person in the park, but the person got away.
Long Painting cooperated in the clean-up efforts, which included removal and replacement of 250 tons of potentially contaminated soil, asphalt and other infrastructure. The company also restored natural vegetation along the creek, rebuilt the stream bed and repaved the parking lot, Fisher said.
Absorbent pads were used to keep remaining fuel in the creek from further entering Puget Sound. South King County Fire Department brought a trailer containing oil spill response equipment, including containment booms and more absorbent pads and materials.
State and federal responders contacted the King County Sheriff’s Office to arrange for a helicopter outfitted with special infrared radar that could track petroleum products on the water at night to fly over the area to determine the extent of the spill.
“We grabbed as much as we could,” Fisher said. Still, about 300 gallons of fuel could not be recovered, and the contractor ended up spending over a week and more than $250,000 on the clean-up.
The Washington Department of Ecology, U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Washington State Department of Transportation, Washington State Parks and the Puyallup Tribe of Indians were all involved in the clean-up as well.
The park was closed to visitors until May 8.
DOE issued the fine to Long Painting on Friday. The company may appeal the penalty to the Washington State Pollution Control Hearings Board. Spill penalties go to fund grants for environmental restoration projects within the state.
In light of the resources spent to mitigate the mess, the fine seemed “pretty minimal,” Fisher said. With grim good humor, he called the episode “one of the joys of being a painting contractor.”
Long will also have to pay $10,345.47 to reimburse the state for its cleanup costs, Department of Ecology spokesman Larry Altose said Monday (Jan. 24).
Altose said that the $1,600 fine was assessed because the fuel was in Long’s possession when it spilled. Although the spill was the result of apparent tampering, he said, Long was responsible for providing adequate security to prevent such problems.
“We did not find negligence,” said Altose. “They spared no effort and cooperated fully” in the cleanup. He added: “In the oil-spill universe, this is a minor penalty.”
There’s more, though. DOE is still deciding whether to impose a Natural Resources Damage assessment on Long, which it is entitled to do in any spill. Altose could not estimate when DOE might make that determination or say how much the fine might be.