The Environmental Protection Agency has completed its operation to dismantle a problematic storage tank containing oily water and bitumen/asphalt in Cruz Bay.
The process to empty and remove the 125,000 gallon tank, located on public land to the north of the “Nature’s Nook” parking lot, began in June 2016, according to Elias Rodriguez, public information officer for the EPA.
The estimated cost of the operation is $2 million, funded through the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund, which pays for “removal costs and damages resulting from oil spills or substantial threats of oil spills to navigable waters of the United States,” according to Rodriguez. The tank was located on a slope several hundred feet uphill from Cruz Bay Creek, a busy area used by ferries, pleasure boats, and National Park Service vessels.
The tank was used by the V.I. Department of Property and Procurement to store asphalt/bitumen, “road tar” for road construction and Public Works projects. It was identified as a hazardous site in September 2016, according to Rodriguez.
Experts were on hand to determine the scope of the operation in 2017, but like many initiatives, it was delayed by the onset of Hurricanes Irma and Maria. The tank, which had been leaking through its seams, suffered further damage from the storms.
Emptying the tank proved to be tricky. “Several factors made this cleanup time-consuming and difficult,” said Rodriguez. “The age and condition of the tank, its location near the water, limited space on a steep escarpment and other factors prohibited the use of heavy equipment.”
Approximately 20,000 gallons of oily water had to be drained and transferred into containers to be shipped off-site for disposal. Then, roughly 80,000 gallons of bitumen/asphalt were removed for shipment off island to a facility licensed to handle the waste.
“The viscous and globular nature of the bitumen/asphalt waste caused it to clog the contractor’s equipment and made it difficult to remove,” said Rodriguez. “To address this, an apparatus was configured which allowed hot water flowing through copper tubing to heat the bitumen/asphalt, making it easier to remove.”
Once it was emptied, the tank was demolished, its metal was recycled, and the contaminated soil was excavated and removed.
The project involved multiple federal and territorial government agencies. “The EPA has coordinated closely with our local and federal partners such as the U.S. Coast Guard National Strike Force’s Atlantic Strike Team, the V.I. Water and Power Authority, the V.I. Department of Planning and Natural Resources, the V.I. Department of Public Works, the National Park Service, and the V.I. Department of Property & Procurement. The St. John administrator provided invaluable local assistance,” said Rodriguez.