Empty fuel tanks pose a hazard

NW 52 ag tanks

HAZARD? — The gas pumps and fuel holding tanks sit empty under the snow at the now defunct AG Store. The tanks on the property are empty, and in violation of federal and state laws. (Photo courtesy of Casco CEO Don Murphy)

 

By Dawn De Busk

Staff Writer

CASCO — When the AG Store went out of business two years ago, residents in Casco Village as well as the outlying areas lost a convenient grocery store.

That is something that is missing from that section of Route 121.

However, something exists that is much more detrimental to Village residents than not being able to pick up a gallon of milk in less than 10 minutes.

Empty gasoline storage tanks have been left behind by the former owners of the AG Store.

Fuel tanks that are empty might not sound menacing; however, according to Casco Code Enforcement Officer (CEO) Don Murphy, there is a potential that those holding tanks could combust.

“It is volatile. It is worse when they are empty,” he said. “The aboveground storage tanks are not in compliance. They have been in violation for two years as far as the DEP is concerned,” he added.

In a letter dated Jan. 3, and sent to the former storeowners, Wayne and Kelly Lewis, CEO Murphy illustrated the direness of the situation.

“Any possible perception on your part that the three near-empty gasoline tanks are no cause for alarm is patently false. This issue constitutes egregious disregard for fire and explosive threat to your nearby village neighbors, as well as the environmental contamination of their wells, the local aquifer and soils and the pristine water of Pleasant Lake several 100 feet downslope of the store,” Murphy said in the official notice of violation.

On Friday, a representative from the Department of Environment Protection (DEP) traveled to Casco and inspected the tanks. Likewise, Casco Fire Chief Jason Moen visited the site with Murphy.

“Our fire chief is concerned about it,” Murphy said.

The town’s CEO was first alerted to the situation when someone complained that left behind trash was getting scattered by the wind.

On Tuesday, Murphy reported the current situation to the Casco Board of Selectmen.

“It started with a phone call; there was some litter flying around up there,” Murphy told the board of Selectmen.

“I have always thought about the abandonment of aboveground tanks. It caused me to look at permitting with the town, permitting with DEP for aboveground tanks,” he said.

“There is a process for clarifying these permits, and making it safe from a public safety standpoint and an environmental standpoint,” Murphy said.

Casco Town Manager Dave Morton said, “Clearly, there are some safety and environmental issues for the neighborhood.

“The town issued a letter of violation. The town is not legally required to follow through with a notice of violation,” Morton said, adding that the town’s responsibility at this point is to notify those agencies that oversee such violation.

Additionally, the town is obligated to notify the owners of the property, he said. In this case, the town had to research the chain of ownership because the business was going through the bankruptcy process.

Both Murphy and Morton said that a realtor involved with the property has contacted the town.

Morton said the selectmen were not required to act on the matter — at least, not at this point in time.

In Murphy’s letter, the former owners were notified that they had not followed DEP requirements that “abandoned systems be emptied, vented and closed down by a certified professional” and that a report of those steps be filed with the department.

Other violations include, but are not limited to: Not locking tank fill caps, not locking and securing fence doors to storage area, tanks being stored in a cracked containment structure, and an audible alarm system that has been turned off. Also, the catwalk between the tanks is wooden rather than a nonflammable material, and “is totally deteriorated and has collapsed between (the) tanks.”

 

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