GUILFORD – What started as a plan to increase parking near the community center has turned into a headache for Guilford officials, who recently found that two oil tanks on a town-owned lot have been leaking into the surrounding soil.
The discovery and subsequent remediation efforts are the latest in a series of problems that have plagued the 52 Church St. lot since the town purchased it for nearly $500,000 in 2018.
“It was identified as an opportunity when it came on the market for us to pick up with the anticipation to utilize the property to increase parking, and replace the building with parking and a new storage facility,” First Selectman Matthew Hoey told CT Examiner on Monday.
Since buying the property, however, the town has run into several issues along the way.
“One of the challenges is it’s in the historic district,” Hoey said. “We made an application to the Historic District Commission for the project. It was not approved. Since that time, we were working toward a compromise with the Historic District Commission in retaining some of the building.”
The original building was erected in the early 20th century, Town Engineer Janice Plaziak said, with an addition added sometime between 1934 and 1951.
Hoey said that, in the eyes of some of the commission members, it constituted something that needed to be preserved.
Then, discussions as to what to do with the building stalled when Guilford’s town planner left in May. Talks will resume soon, Hoey said, as the town recently hired a new town planner, Anne Hartjen, who started about two weeks ago.
Since the original building can’t be torn down, the town has used the property as temporary parking for the community center, Hoey explained, but is looking to maximize its use.
While examining the property this summer, it was discovered that there were two 550-gallon tanks underground and that oil had contaminated the ground.
“That had to be remediated,” Hoey said. The first tank was removed last month.
Plaziak said the soil around the first tank had been examined, along with contaminated soil around it. Then, a second tank was discovered.
Unlike the first one, Hoey said, which was buried under open ground, the second one was buried under one of the additions to the original structure.
Last week, he, along with Plaziak, Facilities Manager Steve Neydorff, an environmental consultant and additional staff walked around the property to examine the second tank.
“They had to cut a hole in the floor of one of these additions to look at the tank,” Hoey said.
The second tank was removed Friday, Plaziak said. Now, the town has to address the oil that has leaked out over what could be a period of more than 75 years.
“We have to remove all the contaminated soil and replace it with other soil,” Hoey said. “It has to be monitored by DEEP. The materials have to be carted and sent to a facility that’s licensed to take in those materials.”
He said there likely won’t be legal recourse for being sold a property with two leaky oil tanks buried underneath it.
“We didn’t know there was a tank buried there,” he said. “More than likely, the addition probably predated some of the best practices that are in place today about permanently burying a tank. The assumption here is this action was done several owners ago. That was not atypical of that methodology in those days. Particularly those large ones.”
He said the cost of removing the tanks and contaminated soil is still a “wild estimate,” but guessed at about $10,000.
“We don’t have any reports back,” Hoey said.
Though it’s unknown how much ecological damage was done by the oil, Plaziak said she doesn’t expect any contamination to have gone beyond the property.
“Hopefully not a lot of product was in there,” she said, adding that there isn’t much concern for contamination spreading to West River, which runs several blocks to the west of the location.
“There is a large container structure that collects drainage and feeds into the … river,” she said. “The first tank was closer to that pipe drainage system. That was able to be remediated and removed with the contaminants. I expect the second tank would not extend any further than the last tank.”