May 2, 2011

Fire Department Reports More Oil in Fall Creek

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The Ithaca Fire Department reported additional oil contamination in Fall Creek to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation on Friday. Firefighters placed a new absorbent boom in the creek to contain the oil.

A fisherman first reported an oil sheen on the creek to the NYSDEC on April 11. After carrying out remediation work, Cornell officials said the environmental impact would likely be minimal.

On April 26, Cornell excavators discovered that the source of the oil was an oil tank underneath the parking lot of 726 University Avenue. Heavy rains in April may have caused the oil to enter storm drains alongside the building, emptying into Fall Creek and causing the sheen, said Steve Beyers, manager of the Engineering Services Group in the Cornell Office of Environmental Compliance and Sustainability.

Cornell never formally reported that oil was leaking into Fall Creek to the NYSDEC, according to documents The Sun obtained through a Freedom of Information Law request.

However, Cornell did report a spill at 726 University Avenue on March 11.

After the March 11 spill, oil was also spotted in Fall Creek on the weekend of March 12. This oil sheen in the creek was not formally reported to the NYSDEC. Cornell said that it was not obligated to report the oil in the creek after reporting the 726 University Avenue incident because it considered the two events to be related, according to Beyers. The two sites are approximately half a mile apart.

The first report that the NYSDEC received about oil in the creek was from a fisherman on April 11.

When Cornell officials learned that oil had been spotted in Fall Creek on the weekend of March 12, the University’s Environmental Health and Safety department investigated the incident, the documents revealed.

“I don’t believe that anybody made a formal report to the DEC hotline about Fall Creek because it was reported earlier in the 726 University Avenue report. We didn’t make another formal report because as far as I know, that’s never done,” Beyers said. “It’s typical to let the investigator know that the spill has gotten worse or better, and we did that.”

Although Cornell did not file a separate report to the NYSDEC about oil in Fall Creek, Beyers said the University emailed Matt Romocki, principal NYSDEC investigator for the case, about oil spreading from 726 University Avenue to a nearby storm drain.

“We put it in writing on [March] 12th that oil got into the storm drain system because we’d heard about that Fall Creek sheen sometime in the weekend,” he said.

Still, the NYSDEC was unaware of the potential for contamination in Fall Creek until April, when it was reported by the fisherman, according to Stephanie Harrington, NYSDEC spokesperson.

Beyers said he first heard of oil in Fall Creek on March 14 but “thought it was from the tank removed in 1995 and didn’t think it was a continuing incident” at the time.

Original Author: Akane Otani