For the second time in as many years, local propane company Rowley Fuels was issued a state-imposed penalty for environmental violations.
Late last month, the Vermont Environmental Court ordered Rowley Fuels pay nearly $18,640 for illegally cutting open fuel oil tanks and setting them on fire, among other violations, documents show.
The company has since paid the fine, ANR litigation attorney Randy Miller said last week. It previously paid environmental fines in August 2015 for an October 2014 fuel spillage into Lake Champlain, the Indy reported then.
This latest settlement resolves an incident from March 2015, when a resident reported thick black smoke coming from a Rowley-owned facility at 467 West Milton Rd.
The Vt. Agency of Natural Resources’ environmental enforcement division responded and spoke to two Rowley employees, who said they burned the oil at the behest of their boss and company owner, Scott Allard.
The workers told ANR this was common practice in preparing the tanks for recycling, agency documents say. They told investigators they burned about 80 gallons of fuel that day.
Allard denied this, saying the employees must have “decided to do this on their own to ‘hurry the process,’” the complaint investigation report says. Instead, Allard said, he’d told the workers to drain the tanks into a larger tank, which supplies fuel for a furnace there.
“It has to go into an actual heat generator,” Miller said. “Not just cut a hole in it set it on fire.”
ANR says the dangers of this practice are great: “Burning heating oil remnants in such an uncontrolled manner sends dangerous toxic pollutants and particulate matter directly into the air at ground level, where they can be easily inhaled,” a press release said.
Emily Boedecker, commissioner of the Vt. Department of Environmental Conservation, said fuel dealers provide an essential service to Vermonters but must do so responsibly.
“When open-burning of fuel and harmful release of petroleum do occur, Vermonters depend on the state to hold responsible parties accountable,” Boedecker said in a news release.
The state conducted a site assessment, which turned up contaminated soils and above- and underground storage tanks, though the site wasn’t registered to produce hazardous waste, the agency’s assurance of discontinuance says.
As such, the state issued several other violations, including that storage tanks were improperly labeled and waste was shipped off-site using the wrong Environmental Protection Agency ID number.
Rowley Fuel’s fine was higher due to the previous violation in 2015: If multiple violations are recorded within a seven-year timeframe, the fine increases, Miller explained.
The prior incident involved a technician’s failure to connect piping to an aboveground storage tank, spilling kerosene into Lake Champlain and the surrounding soils. Allard signed an AOD that July and paid an $11,000 fine.
Then, Leslie Rowley issued a company statement, apologizing for the spill.
“We realize that any time there is fuel released into the environment, it negatively impacts the whole public, and a punishment is warranted,” it said.
Miller, who also served as litigation attorney for the 2015 case, said that incident was essentially an accident; the most recent one was not.
“They just shouldn’t have been doing this at all,” he said. “It wasn’t a miscommunication, at least from the agency’s perspective; it was just a disregard for what they should have been doing.”
Rowley Fuels released a statement Monday saying, “While we do not completely agree with the findings and conclusions of the natural resources agency … we respect and accept them.
“We have altered our procedures and recognize the gravity of failing to adequately explain these procedures to recent employees in an effort to ensure an incident similar to this never occurs again,” it continues.
Miller said the agency’s hazardous waste program will monitor Rowley’s to make sure no hazardous materials are handled at the West Milton Rd. site without a permit.
Miller said as in 2015, Rowley Fuels promptly dealt with the violation.