NORTH STONINGTON — The North Stonington Volunteer Fire Company — not the town — is responsible for the proper removal and disposal of an unused fuel oil tank on its property, but the removal of the unused oil by the public works director was “ethically problematic,” according to the town’s attorney.
The involvement of Public Works Director Stephen Holliday and a septic system contractor, Richard E. White & Sons, has led to some questions at recent Board of Selectmen meetings.
The fire company had contracted with White for the removal of an underground storage tank containing about 400 gallons of home heating oil. The tank was no longer needed after the fire company switched to propane several years ago. A written estimate for the job was submitted Dec. 3, 2013, and was used as a contract.
On Feb. 4, Holliday told the selectmen and Charles M. Smith III of the fire company, who is overseeing the work, that he had removed the oil on a Sunday, on his personal time, and transported it to his residence in preparation for the tank removal.
Smith said he was under the impression that the town was to remove the oil, and Selectman Robert Testa said, “Logically, I think that anyone would ask questions about that.”
Holliday later revealed to Smith that he had acted on behalf of the contractor, who does occasional part-time work for the fire company.
First Selectman Nicholas Mullane II on Tuesday shared recent correspondence with the town’s attorney, Robert Avena of Avena & Kepple in Pawcatuck. It concluded: “I do not feel there is a legal issue that the town of North Stonington should be involved in during this disposal process and it should be left up to the contractor to follow all the proper procedures with the tank and the disposing of the oil.”
The oil is at Holliday’s residence, as it has been for the last month. Testa said believes the town should be involved because the oil was bought by the taxpayers. He said he was also concerned that it could be classified as a waste requiring environmental permitting.
The oil has not been tested to determine if it is usable. “It’s something we don’t know,” Mullane said.
If usable, Testa said it could be burned at another town facility.
Mullane said he was satisfied by the lawyer’s letter but admitted that Holliday’s involvement should be clarified.
Avena called Holliday’s involvement “ethically problematic and not an ideal situation.” He also said that Holliday and Mullane should have discussed the oil removal beforehand and that “perhaps further follow-up should be done with this employee.”
Fire and EMS Committee Chairman Mark Perkins Jr. said the oil belonged to the fire company and therefore its board of trustees should conduct its own investigation.
“In my opinion, this problem is between the board of trustees and the contractor who we chose to do the work,” Perkins said.
“If you would like, I think it’s only fair to the fire company that we come back to the selectmen ... with our report on what happened in the incident, and that’s that,” he said.
Avena’s letter also said it was the responsibility of the contractor to dispose the oil.