Oil spill cleanup may cost family thousands of dollars

Posted: Wednesday, April 02, 2003

Kevin Conrad was at home when the stand holding his 275-gallon heating-oil tank collapsed, spilling 220 gallons of fuel onto his lawn, his neighbor's lawn and the street in front of his Mendenhall Valley house.

Conrad has been home for a month, receiving worker's compensation after injuring his back at his job operating a Bobcat utility machine for Waste Management. He has 10 mouths to feed, including his wife, Christy, who takes care of their six children and two foster children, ranging in age from 2 to 11 years old. His home is now being warmed by electric heat, which he uses as a backup. Conrad also has impending spill cleanup bills in the thousands of dollars and some enduring soreness at what he says was too little help from state and local authorities.

Police, fire officials and a state environmental specialist responded to the spill Friday afternoon on Woodduck Avenue. Police blocked the roads from traffic, fire officials said they tightened a fitting and stopped the fuel leak, and the Department of Environmental Conservation provided materials and guidance on how to clean up.

But when it came to the actual, physical cleanup, Conrad says he was left on his own. He said police and fire officials told him it was his responsibility and left as soon as DEC environmental specialist Les Leatherman showed up. Leatherman said DEC provided Conrad with five bundles of reusable absorbent pads, a wringer system and barrels to hold the absorbed fuel that was wrung out of the pads.

Conrad said DEC should have helped with the cleanup work.

"They're DEC, aren't they? I feel that (with) all that fuel sitting in my yard, neighbor's yard and out the road, they should have been involved a little bit rather than saying 'here's some absorbent pads, here's some peat moss, a wringer and some drums, have fun,' " he said.

Leatherman said the state doesn't clean up fuel spills because doing so would take jobs away from the private sector.

"There are contractors here whose livelihood is conducting oil spill and hazardous material cleanups," he said.

He said DEC "bent over backwards" to assist Conrad, and said Conrad acted very responsibly to clean up the spill.

"He was willing to do anything he could to correct the problem, and he did," Leatherman said.

Police Lt. Walt Boman said police typically will direct traffic in the event of a spill that has overflowed into the road.

"We block off the street. The fire department and DEC would be responsible to clean it up," he said.

Fire Capt. Beth Weldon said cleanup is the property owner's responsibility.

"We don't clean up. We just try and stop the problem," Weldon said.

The fuel leak has been stopped and all of the recoverable oil cleaned up, and the next task is to treat the soil using nitrogen fertilizer, a job that will take six months to a year.

But Conrad now has another problem.

His homeowners insurance policy does not cover the accident and his agent told him "you can't even buy a policy that covers a fuel spill," he said today.

Staff from an environmental consulting office estimated his total cleanup cost at $5,000 to $10,000, he said. That includes about $250 that he'll have to pay to replace the absorbent pads he got from DEC.

"There's no way I'll be able to pay for all this myself. DEC told me this was my responsibility but this isn't something that you plan for," he said. "I had to dig a trench and I had to rent an excavator which I don't have the money for but I had to rent it anyway to dig the ditch. I've got to go get the soil to fill this ditch. I've got to repair the neighbor's yard. I've got to fix my yard, my fuel tank. I don't have the money for any of that, and a week's worth of work to do."

Donations to help the Conrads may be sent to the Church of the Nazarene at P.O. Box 32360, 3220 Mendenhall Loop Road, Juneau, AK 99803.

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