Southern looking view of hospital oil spill and proximity to Chestertown’s water plant

University of Maryland Shore Regional Health was fined $10,000 Friday for neglecting to properly report the failure of the containment system that has protected the town’s drinking water supply from a massive heating oil spill three decades ago.

The system, an array of pumps and recovery wells, keeps the oil plume from moving downgradient towards the town’s water supply, and it is estimated that 80,000 gallons remains in the subsurface at the hospital campus.

Following an inquiry from the Kent Pilot in June, Maryland Department of the Environment learned that the oil containment system at the hospital was out of commission for almost two months without the town or MDE’s knowledge.

And following a series of emails and voice messages from the Kent Pilot on Oct. 15, requesting information on possible fines, MDE released a letter written to Shore Regional Health, also dated Oct.15, assessing a fine of $47,0000.

The fine was whittled down to $10,000.

Shore Health CEO Ken Kozel

Shore Regional Health was informed by its environmental consultant on April 29 that “The system is currently off.”

“The failure of the Shore Regional Health team to fully comprehend the meaning of this statement and the failure to subsequently inform MDE and the Town is not excusable,” said Kaley Laleker, director of MDE’s Land and Materials Administration to Shore Health CEO Ken Kozel.

“Any subsequent violations will subject you to separate civil action,” Laleker continued. “Therefore, you are advised to maintain operations in compliance with Maryland laws and regulations.”

Notification of the fine follows a strongly worded letter to Kozel in June following an earlier inquiry from the Kent Pilot —  seeking verification that the system was functioning normally again after Town Utilities Manager Bob Sipes noted in a utilities meeting that the system was reported to be off in April — but with no subsequent reporting that the system was back on.

“We are concerned and disappointed to learn that this prolonged outage of the P&T system, a central component of the approved remediation, was not clearly and promptly reported to MDE. Instead, this fact was buried in the back of a +300 page report. A change in conditions of this significance should have been immediately and specifically brought to MDE’s attention, and then presented in the first few pages of the report,” said Christopher Ralston, Program Manager of MDE’s Oil Control Program in his June 26 letter to Kozel. “In effect, the P&T system was shut down for 1.5 to 2 months without anyone being informed. This is particularly concerning given that MDE and the Town of Chestertown have both emphasized the need for full transparency and timely communication regarding this project.”

“If the remediation system fails to operate for more than 24 hours, for any reason, it must be reported to MDE,” the letter said. “Once operation of the remediation system is restored, a summary of the cause of the system failure, repairs made, and total system downtime must be provided to MDE within five days of system reactivation.”