In the community

State fines Ontario prison over fuel tank problems

ONTARIO – The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality fined the Snake River Correctional Institution in Ontario nearly $38,000 for five hazardous management violations of its gasoline and diesel tanks.

According to a July 20 penalty letter, the state environmental agency documented five violations during the agency’s inspection on June 9, 2022. The prison stores gas and diesel for its vehicles and emergency generators in the event of a power outage, said Amber Campbell, the prison’s spokesperson

According to Campbell, the agency cited the prison for not updating its insulation pipes for its underground tank system that stores the prison’s diesel, which, she said, was supposed to have been completed in 2020 to keep up with state and federal regulations. Campbell said according to regulation, any facility in Oregon with underground fuel storage that is over 10 years old must be updated. She said the pipes in question are the ventilation component of the prison’s underground tank system.

Campbell said the gas and diesel are stored separately at the prison. She said the prison has a refueling station on site for its vehicles that operates like a gas station.

The penalty documents noted that the prison lacked an overfill prevention mechanism at its refueling station. Dylan Darling, a public affairs specialist with the state environmental quality agency, said in a Friday, Sept. 15 email that overfill prevention equipment is similar to what gas stations use to detect overfilling, which slows or restricts gas flow to prevent topping off a vehicle’s tank to avoid spills.

According to the penalty document, a spill bucket at its refueling station intended to catch excess fuel was cracked, “rendering it not liquid tight.” The penalty document noted that the spill bucket for another tank was nearly full and would not have prevented spillage.

Valves intended to automatically shut off diesel flowing in the underground pipe system when tanks were full weren’t functioning, the agency found.

The document noted that the monitors designed to gauge fuel release in the underground tank system were not functioning on two other tanks.

The monitors and detectors will restrict diesel flow in pressurized piping should a catastrophic release occur, Darling said.

Without the functional monitors, the automatic tank gauging systems would not flag the prison officials to a fuel leak, the state agency wrote.

“Proper maintenance of the equipment at the facility is essential to both prevent and detect releases,” the agency wrote.

Additionally, the agency wrote that monitoring and testing fuel levels in underground pipe systems is vital to preventing leaks from spreading beyond the facility.

“If a leak goes unnoticed due to unmaintained release detection equipment, the leaking fuel can have lasting harmful effects on the environment or human health,” the Department of Environmental Quality wrote. 

Heidi MacKenzie, physical plant manager with the correctional institution, requested an appeal hearing in a Tuesday, Aug. 8, email to the state environmental agency. According to the violation letter, the correctional facility had 20 days to request the hearing in writing.

Campbell said on Wednesday, Sept. 13, that the facility is working with engineers to bring in a contractor to repair the tanks and underground pipe system. Campbell said the goal is to replace the tanks at the prison, but the project is several months out. 

The repairs and subsequent replacement will come from the state Department of Corrections deferred maintenance fund, according to Campbell. The costs are unclear at this point, she said.

Darling said Wednesday, Sept. 13, that companies fined by the agency either pay the fine in full or reach a settlement with the agency and pay an adjusted penalty before the enforcement goes to a contested case hearing. Additionally, the penalty document noted that the state environmental agency might allow some violating entities to complete an environmental project that it funds instead of paying a penalty.

Darling said the prison has yet to schedule a hearing date with the state agency.

Campbell said it is important to emphasize that the prison has not contaminated groundwater and is in violation due to its outdated systems, which it is working on updating.

“It’s important for us to be a good community partner and a good neighbor,” she said. “We want to make sure that there’s not any cause of concern for people about that.”

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