The Chestertown Town Council continues to move forward to gain access to the hospital here to investigate the possible location of an estimated 80,000 gallons of heating oil that remains on the site from a spill three decades ago.  This spill zone potentially poses a risk to the town’s water supply which sits just 1,100 feet downhill from the hospital.

University of Maryland Shore Regional Health recently made a request to the Maryland Department of the Environment to turn off a containment system at the hospital, a series of pumps and recovery wells, which has kept the plume of oil from escaping in the direction of the water plant for many years.  

In their request to the agency, Shore Health claimed that any remaining oil would biodegrade before it ever reached the water plant.

But the town wants a site study to determine what happened to the 80,000 gallons of oil before the containment system is turned off.

At the May 17 town council meeting Chestertown Utilities Manager Bob Sipes was granted permission to contract with an environmental firm to devise a plan for a comprehensive investigation of the site.  

In devising the plan the firm would review water samples and study current maps of the spill zone to determine where borings could be drilled to identify any remaining oil. Sipes said the company would also review the quarterly sampling reports and other data submitted by the hospital to MDE to determine any gaps in information.

The preliminary study will cost the town up to $10,000 and Sipes had hoped to get permission to access hospital property before the money was spent on the preliminary study, but the town’s attorney on the matter, Michael Forlini, said the preliminary proposal for the study should be presented to the hospital with the request for access. 

Sipes recommended the expenditure go forward for the preliminary study not knowing whether Shore Regional Health would grant access to the site once a proposal is submitted with the request for access.

“Looks like we have to have the study plan…before we can request the access,” Sipes said at the June 7 town meeting, referencing Forlini’s advice. “We need to be detailed in our request.”

Sipes was hopeful that the hospital would cooperate once the site investigation plan is submitted.

“I’m optimistic that once we draw up a plan and submit it to [Shore Health] we will get some level of cooperation,” Sipes said. He said the hospital would benefit from proving their statements that the site is clean and no longer poses a threat to the water supply.

Mayor David Foster reiterated that the Kent County Commissioners were now involved with an offer to fund up to $10,000 to pay for the preliminary proposal.

“We are appreciative of that,” Foster said. “It also sends a valuable signal to Maryland Department of the Environment that it’s not just Chestertown but the entire county that is concerned about this.”