The Kent County Commissioners voted 3-0 Tuesday to pay the cost of a preliminary proposal for Chestertown to conduct its own site investigation of the hospital oil spill site, up to $10,000, with the possibility of contributing more if needed.

“The hospital is in Chestertown and god love them for keeping an eye on [the spill],” said Kent County Commissioner Ron Fithian, who proposed paying for the proposal. “It’s Kent County’s hospital and everybody at one time or another probably uses it…it’s valuable to us.”

“It would be a little easier for us to handle than the Town of Chestertown doing it on their own for the whole county,” Fithian said.

“It’s a community hospital not just a Chestertown hospital,” reiterated Commissioner Bob Jacob.

A site investigation has never been conducted of the decades’ old heating oil spill where it is estimated that 80,000 gallons remains in the ground and poses a threat to the town’s water supply, which sits 1,100 feet downslope from the spill.

The town council wants a site investigation before Maryland Department of the Environment grants Shore Health permission to turn off a containment system that has kept the spill from moving offsite for two decades. Shore Health made a recent turn-off request to MDE. 

The hospital maintains that the oil spill no longer poses a risk to the water supply and the town wants to verify this through an independent site investigation.

Reached by phone on Wednesday, Fithian said going ahead with a study of the site would put Chestertown residents and non-residents connected to the water supply at ease.

“This could address their concerns before turning off the protections that are up there and verify the efforts of the hospital to clean up the site over the years,” he said.

Mayor David Foster and Chestertown Utilities Manager Bob Sipes respond to the support.

“This will speak well to the Maryland Department of the Environment so they will see that the concern is not just in Chestertown,” Foster said. “I’m very appreciative of the Kent County Commissioners and I look forward to talking to MDE and the hospital about this. This is an important issue and recognized by citizens throughout the county and our county government.”

“This is an example of where the town and the county could work together and I look forward to mutual cooperation on areas of common concern,” Foster said. “I hope we can build on this and look for other areas of common ground.”

Sipes said his appreciation of the commissioners’ help was “without bounds.”

“I’m elated, surprised and very appreciative of the county’s help,” Sipes said. 

The commissioners’ vote Tuesday came a day after the Chestertown Council 4-0 to let Sipes pursue a proposal from a consultant to identify the whereabouts of any remaining oil that could pose a risk to the town’s drinking water supply.

Will Shore Health allow the town’s consultant access to the hospital property?

The preliminary proposal and moving forward with full site investigation will require cooperation from Shore Health, which responded late Wednesday.

“When University of Maryland Shore Regional Health receives a formal request from the town, we will review the proposal and work plan and respond accordingly,” said Trena Williamson, a spokesperson for the hospital system.