Last week’s news–that a 500-gallon oil tank at a private residence had malfunctioned, spilling its contents onto a basement dirt floor–quickly went from bad to worse. Not only did the oil seep into the ground and contaminate the well at the home where it happened Thursday, Sept. 7 at 715 Ridgefield Rd., but it had also spread far enough underground to contaminate the well of the neighbor immediately north, across Vista Rd..

The Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) had been called in as soon as the spill was discovered. While DEEP immediately assumed jurisdiction, many residents and neighbors wondered what the Town of Wilton and its officials were doing and how they were involved. The town had initially notified neighbors within a 500-ft. radius of the spill, by hand delivering notices as well as through regular mail; first selectman Lynne Vanderslice had the notice posted on the town website as well. As word spread and the severity of the situation became clearer to officials, they expanded the area of direct notification to a 1,000-ft. radius.

But still, residents in the wider neighborhood as well as throughout the town had questions–what else was the town doing? Were town officials in the First Selectman’s Office and the Health Department doing enough to make sure that everyone’s interests were protected?

We spoke to Vanderslice over the weekend to get a timeline of events, and to clarify what the town’s role has been since the spill was discovered.

She explained that as soon as the fire department was called to the house by the residents that Thursday, Sept. 7 and the spill was discovered, normal protocol dictated that DEEP be called in and assume jurisdiction over response and remediation. In general, anytime there’s an oil spill such as the one that occurred, DEEP takes over and is “100% responsible,” as Vanderslice puts it.

“They have the authority, we don’t,” she says.

Very shortly afterward, oil odor was detected by the neighbors in the house directly to the north. “DEEP was brought into that, and the Health Department was notified. DEEP did everything they were supposed to do. Because they now had two situations, they did ask the town, would we help them with the notification of adjacent neighbors.”

On the town side, Vanderslice met with all of the pertinent Wilton people–Mark Amatrudo, assistant fire chief and director of emergency operations; fire marshall Rocco Grosso; town sanitarian Jennifer Zbell; Mike Conklin, the director of environmental affairs; and town planner Bob Nerney.  “They were concerned about notifying people quickly.”

The town made every effort to notify neighbors in the immediate vicinity. Zbell and Conklin went to homes within that 500-ft. radius to knock on doors, speak to neighbors and hand deliver a notice from the town explaining the situation. Vanderslice also posted the same notice on the town website.

“We wanted to make sure that if you were away and you were not getting what Jen Zbell left at your house or because she couldn’t reach you, that there was a place you could find it,” Vanderslice explains. “We weren’t hiding anything.”

With DEEP handling the scene of the spill, the state agency called in EnviroConsultants & Recyclers, “a licensed environmental company with expertise in oil spill remediation.” The notice distributed by the town included the name and phone number for contact with EnviroConsultants.

In addition, Wilton’s director of social services Sarah Heath was asked to go to the families involved and see if she could provide any assistance.

It soon became clearer that the scope of the situation was larger than first thought, and more people needed to be notified. Plus, as news reports spread the story to the wider population, more and more people started asking town officials questions.

“The Health Department is answering people’s questions and collecting emails so that as we have information we’re sending it out,” Vanderslice says. “The critical thing is, the source for information is the person and the phone number that Jen Zbell has in her notice.”

This past Friday, Sept. 15, there was a meeting on site with everyone involved: DEEP, EnviroConsultants, the Fire Department, health director Barry Bogle, and various others from the town.

“We have continued to monitor the situation, make ourselves available to, facilitate for DEEP, anything we can do as far as notification. We have an email chain that we have started, and as we have updated information to share we will,” says Vanderslice. That included a second notice on Friday, which was emailed to those within a 1,000-ft. radius and others who have requested to be put on the email chain, and posted on the town website.

“Even thought it is 100% the State of Connecticut and DEEP’s responsibility, we are staying in touch and involved, so we can help facilitate and provide people information,” Vanderslice adds. “We’ve been helping all the way.”

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