In wake of petroleum spill that contaminated wells, Saugerties considers extending municipal water

Excavations took place in June at the Sunoco gas station across Route 32 from the Comfort Inn, which was under a ‘Do Not Drink the Water’ order from the state DEC. Ditches were dug at the gas station to determine whether the contamination was coming from the station. (photo by Robert Ford)

The DEC has assessed fines totaling more than $800,000 to the owners of the Sunoco gas station on Route 32 near Winston Farm and to an unnamed contractor for the petroleum spill that contaminated the water at the nearby Comfort Inn.

Michael Hopf, village of Saugerties water department superintendent, said the state Department of Environmental Conservation, which assessed the fines, and lawyers for both the contractor, who allegedly caused the spill, and the owners of the Sunoco station were negotiating those fines.


Albany-based American Petroleum, which was hired by the owners of the station to investigate reports that there had been a leak at the station, determined in conjunction with the DEC that a contractor who had been working on one of the pumps back in May broke a line.

Hopf said he’s been told the line was quickly repaired. Neither the contractor nor the station owner reported to the DEC that gas had leaked into the ground when the pipe broke, however.

“It’s interesting how they found out about it,” Hopf says.

An inspector for the DEC was at the gas station doing a routine inspection when he went to the bathroom. He smelled gas when he washed his hands. The investigation began.

DEC and county department of health inspectors then went across the street to the Comfort Inn and discovered petroleum in its well water. A ‘Do not drink the water’ order was issued to the Comfort Inn and to the Sunoco station, which also has a well.

Hotel workers immediately went out a purchased hundreds of bottles of water and stocked all the rooms for their guests. The owners of the nearby Howard Johnson motel offered to provide potable water to the Comfort Inn through a large above-ground water hose. The Howard Johnson has its own fire hydrant and its own water line, which connects into the village’s water line along Route 212.


Extending the water line

Because the above-ground line will freeze and rupture in the winter, Hopf said, the Comfort Inn would have to find another way to get water. American Petroleum, acting on behalf of the owners of the Sunoco station, has asked the village if there is some way that a water line can be run from the main along Route 212 down to the gas station and the Comfort Inn.

Hopf and village officials have suggested the gas station and motel owners negotiate with Bitten Patel, who has received town planning board approval to construct a Holiday Inn Express on land to the rear of the Sunoco station. He might allow them to hook into a planned water line.

The village water department has agreed to allow Patel to hook into the Route 212 water main and run a line up to his hotel. The line, Hopf said, will cost about $300,000.

If Patel allows the Comfort Inn and gas station to hook into his line, Hopf said, the town of Saugerties might then look into creating a water district there, purchasing the line from Patel and allowing other businesses and residents in the area who now use wells to hook into the system.


The question of supply

Village officials are concerned about the amount of water that would be used to service the Comfort Inn and the gas station. Would there be enough water for village residents and businesses? The only current source of water for the village and most of the town that receives village water comes from the Blue Mountain Reservoir, a widening of the Plattekill Creek off Blue Mountain Road.

When the creek, which receives its water from rain and snow runoff, as well as from underground springs, was created as a reservoir to serve the village, a court ruling in 1957, which involved “downstream stakeholders,” limited the draft rate of water from the reservoir.

The DEC required the village to supply a certain amount to the town. Town residents and business that line the roads along the village water lines from the reservoir receive village water.

Village trustee Donald Hackett believes village residents and businesses should get their water first. Only if there is any left over should it be allocated to the town.

Fellow trustee Jeff Helmuth concurred. Helmuth and Hopf prepared a report detailing water supply in the reservoir and reviewing the allocations set up by the DEC. In that report, Helmuth explained that “safe yield” took historical records on the usage of the water into account. Periods of low runoff from the watershed were studied.

The report says the Blue Mountain watershed is 18.5 square miles, “which is quite large.” In 1957 a court ruling limits the draft rate (the amount of water that can be drawn from the reservoir on a daily basis) to 1.8 million gallons a day.


The safe yield from the reservoir, according to hydrologists in a study done a number of years ago, show that rate to be 8.9 million gallons a day, “so therefore, the safe yield is not a limiting factor,” according to Helmuth, “and the reservoir has much more capacity than required.”

The town and village “together use approximately 0.84 to 1.0 million gallons a day, which is less than 55 percent of the allowed draft rate.” The village allotment to the town, 0.6 million gallons of water a day, goes to the town’s three water districts: Malden, Glasco and Kings Highway. Those three districts use about 0.4 million gallons of water a day.

Howard Johnson’s line along Route 32 North was installed in the 1970s. It is not part of a town district but is a customer of the village. It is billed as such.

If the Comfort Inn and Sunoco station tie into the future line to the Holiday Inn Express and the town decides to create its fourth water district there, Hopf said, a new water agreement would have to be worked out with the town.

The amount of water at the reservoir would not be a limiting factor as to hooking the Comfort Inn and the Sunoco station into the system, the report concludes.

There are 2 comments

  1. Paula Serino

    I was wondering why this was closed! How about that, smelling gas in the bathroom. Definitely a good illustration of why we need people out there concerned with environmental contamination.

  2. Genie Sims

    Every time I see a gas station under construction and those giant underground tanks I think about how something like this might happen. Oil/gas really is nasty stuff. Some day when we’re using mostly electric we’ll look back at stories like this and shudder at how we managed to adapt to the danger of having such a noxious substance everywhere, in the air, underground, gallons and gallons within a few feet of us every time we go anywhere.

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