Jersey oil spill contaminates waterwaysgreenspun.com : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread
Oil leak from Mt. Laurel hotel affects three miles of waterways
By Karen Masterson
INQUIRER SUBURBAN STAFF MOUNT LAUREL - An oil spill contaminated waterways yesterday from a hotel on Route 73 at the New Jersey Turnpike to Strawbridge Lake in Moorestown, three miles away.
Officials think a pump that sent heating oil from an 8,000-gallon underground storage tank to a 300-gallon tank on the roof of the Mount Laurel Travelodge may have failed to turn off Tuesday night, causing the rooftop tank to overflow.
They said 1,000 to 3,000 gallons of oil apparently poured off the roof through drainpipes that empty into a creek behind the 243-room hotel.
Once in the creek, the reddish slick flowed under the turnpike and through wetlands along the north branch of Pennsauken Creek, under Interstate 295, and eventually to Strawbridge Lake.
"We're worried about the weather, especially the rain tomorrow," said Michael Brescio of the federal Environmental Protection Agency, which is overseeing the cleanup. He said heavy rain and wind predicted for today could force the oil deep into the 40-acre lake at the heart of Strawbridge Lake Park along Route 38.
"There's no contamination in the lake right now," said Monica Allison of the Coast Guard. Workers installed absorbent booms to catch oil before it entered the lake.
Along the creek, tentacles of oil clung to vegetation and tree roots. About half a dozen geese and mallard ducks were seen covered in oil, officials said, but there were no reports of fish being killed.
Investigators were trying to determine how long the pumps had forced the rooftop tank to overflow and whether Travelodge officials had been aware of the leak.
Rob Schmitt, a spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Protection, said the agency was concerned that other unreported fuel leaks might have occurred at the Travelodge.
The Mount Laurel Travelodge is owned by W.W. Lodging Inc. of El Cajon, Calif., and is managed by Westmont Hospitality Inc. of Houston.
"I was out there all night trying to figure where it came from," said Jim Manuel, a DEP environmental specialist. "After dawn, we tracked it back to the Travelodge."
Stephen Sikking, general manager of the Travelodge, said he learned of the problem when he went to work at 8 a.m. yesterday.
"We're in this community and we want to make sure it's safe and sound," he said. "We support every effort to clean it up. I don't care if it was a gallon of oil, we regret it."
Environmental officials said the hotel, if found responsible for the spill, would have to pay for the cleanup and could be fined.
Early yesterday, emergency workers from Mount Laurel and Cherry Hill installed absorbent, sausage-shaped booms to contain the oil at the mouth of Strawbridge Lake.
The booms absorbed oil while allowing water to pass through. By early afternoon, the booms were full and needed to be replaced.
Trucks from Clean Harbors Environmental Services Inc., a national company based in Massachusetts, were brought in to siphon the oil from the surface of the creek. But the work could not begin until Travelodge corporate officials signed the cleanup contracts, environmental officials said.
"I'm personally dissatisfied with the time delay," Manuel said.
The spill was reported about 11:30 Tuesday night by an employee of a company across the turnpike in the East Gate office park off Fellowship Road.
Police said the woman felt sick and complained to a security officer, who smelled petroleum coming from a catch basin outside the office building.
Mount Laurel police and fire squads investigated. By dawn yesterday, marine safety officers based in Philadelphia, the Coast Guard's North Atlantic Strike Team, the EPA, the DEP, the Burlington County Health Department, and the county Emergency Management Office were at the scene.
"Some businesses were closed off this morning," said Pat Halbe, Mount Laurel Township manager. "A considerable amount of time was wasted in the dark, backtracking" to the Travelodge.
Halbe said the spill was the most significant she could remember in the township. She said some businesses in the office park were closed yesterday morning because of the petroleum odor and because employees had complained of itchy eyes, throat irritation and headaches. Some firms opened later in the day.
-- Martin Thompson (firstname.lastname@example.org), March 09, 2000