New Underground Fuel Tank Regulations to Take Effect
Theresa Langdon, the driver behind the new underground oil storage tank regulations, has never been very involved in town politics. In fact, she hasn’t attended a Town Meeting in years. “I used to go until they got too disruptive,” she said. However, from her front row seat at Monday’s Annual Town Meeting, she watched as a new underground storage tank regulation she spent months creating was approved by residents.
The bylaw limits the types of tanks that can be installed, requires residents to register their underground tanks within the next 30 days and in some cases requires homeowners to remove their tank. More than a year ago, Ms. Langdon became concerned about the underground tanks she believed were scattered throughout her neighborhood in Otter River.
Ms. Langdon said that decades ago, an “oil man” purchased a large tract of land. As he developed it, he reportedly equipped each house — including what would become Ms. Langdon’s home — with an underground oil tank. “I didn’t know any better when I bought the house,” she said. The Environmental Protection Agency reports that most underground storage tanks were not designed to be buried. If left alone, they will most likely rust and leak — thus contaminating the groundwater supply. The cleanup can be costly.
After learning more about the tank in her backyard and the potential hazard, Ms. Langdon opted to have hers removed. She also started to become concerned about the tanks in her neighbors’ yards as well. “If it leaks into the ground, it’s not going to stop at the property line,” she said. Her solution was to try to pen legislation that would require others to remove their tanks.
At the local level, she quickly learned some people are more helpful than others. She said Board of Selectmen Chairman Robert O’Keefe became her greatest ally, but also she gave credit to fellow resident Russ Gaulin, who works for the Department of Environmental Protection, and Selectwoman Beth Hunt.
Even with their help, she said creating the regulation was still a hard process. “I did most of the legwork myself,” she said. “It consumed a lot of my time — tons.” She went to several selectmen meetings, as well as one-on-one meetings. Before Town Meeting, the final draft of the article was barely approved by the select board in a vote of 3-to-2 and was not approved by the Finance Committee.
People questioned the wording during town meeting, if the regulations were necessary and if they potentially place an unfair burden on people who already have these tanks. Mr. Gaulin — who was not acting as an official DEP representative — answered questions about the cost of removal, general knowledge questions and why testing is unnecessary. The bylaw underwent further amendment with Mr. O’Keefe eliminating the statutes requiring testing of tanks and costly maintenance. He also gave homeowners with tanks older than 21 years, a two-year time period to have the tank removed, compared to just 30 days.
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