Neighbors Turn Out to Question Efforts by Lyme-Old Lyme School Officials on Oil Spill

Center School, Old Lyme (Credit: CT Examiner)


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LYME/OLD LYME — Board of Education Chair Steve Wilson said at a meeting on Wednesday that the district should have been more deliberate in informing neighbors about an oil spill at Lyme-Old Lyme Middle School. 

“I think that we should have over-communicated instead of undercommunicated,” Wilson said. 

Wilson was responding to questions from several residents on Lyme Street, who attended the meeting to ask why the district had not informed them about the oil spill when it occurred in August. Instead, they said, the first time they heard about the spill was in mid-January, when they received a letter from the firm Kropp Environmental Contractors, the company tasked with the cleanup. 

Wilson said that the board had been acting under the advice of the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, or DEEP, who were contacted immediately after the spill was discovered on the morning of Aug. 1. 

“The short answer as to why nobody was notified about this was because DEEP was instructing us within 45 minutes of the spill and said there was no reason to notify,” said Wilson. 

In a written response to an email from several neighbors addressed to the Board of Education, Ian Neviaser, the district superintendent, explained that members of the Facilities and Finance Committee decided in a meeting on Jan. 4 that they should notify neighbors living adjacent to the middle school “out of an abundance of caution.” 

Deborah Wade, who lives close to the school on Lyme Street, told the Board of Education that she had never been approached by anyone from the district about the spill. Wilson said that Ron Turner, the district’s director of facilities, had gone to knock on Wade’s door, but that she wasn’t home.

“The answer is, that was an honest mistake,” said Wilson. “[Turner] went to notify people and they weren’t home. We said, you should have left a note, sent a letter. The communication should have been more deliberate as opposed to happenstance.” 

Margaret Ames and Denise Ogden, daughters of Judy Tooker, who owns 67 and 63 Lyme Street, said they also did not find out about the oil spill from the district. Like Wade, they received a letter from Kropp Environmental Contractors in mid-January informing them that the company needed to test their well.

In an email, Neviaser said that Kropp had sent the letter to residents within 500 feet of the spill without the approval of the district or the state. 

“The notification from Kropp was not authorized by the district or DEEP, nor was it requested by either. We too were surprised when we received the notification from Kropp as DEEP has not recommended the testing of wells as a necessary step at this point,” Neviaser wrote. 

Wilson said that the district was planning to meet with DEEP on Friday to talk about whether Kropp’s actions were “appropriate.”  

“There’s a disagreement of what they should have done,” said Wilson. “DEEP is saying there’s nothing to worry about. Kropp acted on their own without being directed to do that.” 

Neviaser wrote in the email that, in a worst-case scenario, over 1000 gallons of oil may have leaked into the soil during the spill. 

Documents provided to CT Examiner by Neviaser, show elevated levels of a variety of petroleum-related pollutants at two test wells located in the direction of groundwater flow between the Middle School and nearby neighbors on Lyme Street. The tests also show levels of “total petroleum hydrocarbons” of 260 ug/L – or parts per billion – above the state’s contaminant threshold of 250 ug/L, with levels of benzene and benzo(a)anthrecene slightly exceeding state standards. 

Groundwater test results for hydrocarbon pollution from test wells sited around the Lyme-Old Lyme Middle School

Neviaser noted in an email to CT Examiner that the test wells were monitoring groundwater at a level closer to the surface than the water in most deep-drilled drinking wells.

“These monitoring wells are monitoring ground water, which is significantly different than drinking water as most drinking water wells are drilled hundreds of feet deep,” Neviaser wrote. 

A map showing the locations of test wells and water flow. Wells MW-10 and MW-7 show pollution above state thresholds (CT Examiner)

But one nearby neighbor, who contacted CT Examiner out of concern about the pollution and the lack of notice, said that their drinking water was drawn from a shallow dug well.

Ogden, who attended the board meeting, also told CT Examiner she was disturbed that it had taken so long for her to find out about the spill. 

“Five months. I mean, could we have been drinking water that was contaminated for five months?” she said. “We’re all on well water and it’s a little scary thinking that we’ve been consuming it all this time.” 

Wade said she was refusing to drink the well water until she received the test results. 

“I’m buying water for my dog and I to drink. Who’s going to pay for that?” she said. 

She also said that Kropp informed her that they would need to continue testing the well to make sure the oil did not move. 

According to the email, the district has so far spent $75,000 in contingency expenses on the spill, including installing the 12 monitoring wells and other cleanup costs. The district is also paying the insurance deductible for their carrier, who is now paying for the process. 

Wilson said the board would continue to monitor the situation.

“It’s a constant topic of conversation, and we’re doing our best to manage and monitor the situation without causing undue alarm,” he said. 

DEEP has not yet responded to a request, made on Jan. 26,  for more information about the spill and the remediation efforts.

Emilia Otte

Emilia Otte covers health and education for the Connecticut Examiner. In 2022 Otte was awarded "Rookie of the Year," by the New England Newspaper & Press Association.