Oct. oil spill under investigation in Walnutport
Larry Wittig, president of Tamaqua Transfer & Recycling Inc., addresses Walnutport Borough Council last week about the oil spill that occurred on Oct. 15 in Walnutport. Scan this photo with the Prindeo app for a video. TERRY AHNER/TIMES NEWS
Michael Wentz, emergency management coordinator/Walnutport Fire Chief, explains how the oil spill was handled. TERRY AHNER/TIMES NEWS
An oil spill that occurred last month in Walnutport remains under investigation.
Details from the spill that occurred the morning of Oct. 15 emerged at last week’s Walnutport Borough Council meeting.
Colleen Connolly, community relations coordinator, Northeast Regional Office, said in an email sent Friday afternoon that the matter remains under investigation.
“The DEP received a complaint on Oct. 15 about a hydraulic oil spill on several streets in the borough of Walnutport,” Connolly said. “The DEP responded via telephone on that day to the complainant and took down information.”
Connolly said that on Oct. 16, a DEP inspector from the Clean Water Program responded to the borough and documented “oil sheens on some streets in the borough and ultimately in a body of water in a canal in another part of the borough. The borough’s fire department had already placed absorbent pads in the water to soak up the material.”
“The DEP has identified and been in contact with a potential responsible party (for the spill),” she said.
Reaction to the spill
One couple expressed displeasure with the spill, along with the borough’s trash hauler, Tamaqua Transfer & Recycling Inc. Tamaqua, at Thursday’s Walnutport Borough Council meeting.
Larry Wittig, president of Tamaqua Transfer & Recycling Inc., said one of his trucks had a metal tube that had been rubbing and developed spewing of hydraulic fluid.
He said later that day Walnutport Police Chief Peter Wayda contacted him about the situation.
Wittig said that the cleanup contractor Rapid Response was contacted.
“It was minimal, as stated by Rapid Response,” Wittig said. “It was not a big deal; the environmental impact was zero.”
Wittig said he apologized for the incident, and added that they made restitution.
“We did what we had to do,” he said.
Wittig said the truck went back to the shop and had the pipe replaced, then finished collection in the borough.
Wittig said the borough emergency management coordinator, Michael Wentz, stopped the truck and identified himself, and was also complaining that the truck was still leaking, but that it was not.
“That does not excuse the behavior of stopping a driver,” he said. “I’m not making excuses.”
Wittig said that he’s “painfully aware” of the dynamic between borough Councilwoman Patrice Hunsicker and several members of council.
He told council he didn’t want to be “in the middle of some childish back and forth.”
Wittig then told council it’s up to them if they would like to end the contract with his company.
“If you want to end the contract, you can do that,” he said. “I won’t stand in your way.”
Wittig added that he would do whatever council wanted him to do, but said if council were to end the contract with him, that the company will not bid on the contract again in the future.
Wittig said his company dealt with the matter as best it could.
“We mitigated it to the nth degree,” he said. “I don’t want to be where I’m not wanted.”
Councilman Dave Stankovic said he realizes the situation was “an accident.”
“They should have stopped it right there,” Stankovic said. “It happens, but it should have been stopped.”
One resident said she was happy when the contract with Tamaqua Transfer went through because of the fact it was a cheaper contract.
Hunsicker, who served on the borough’s solid waste committee at the time of the incident, said she received a call from Wayda about an oil leak left in the McDonald’s parking lot.
Wentz then presented Wittig with a bill from the fire company, telling him he had 30 days to pay it, as the borough has an ordinance for any cost incurred for hazardous waste cleanup.
He further stated that he had video of the spill, and that he saw the truck driving during the day.
Wittig retorted, “We’re not disputing that it happened.”
Wentz stated that he followed orders and immediately called DEP back.
Wentz said he then asked the driver to shut the truck down because the truck was still leaking, but that the driver was “uncooperative.”
Wentz said two other members of the fire department followed the truck, and that the truck was still leaking.
“At no time was this truck blocked in,” he said.
Councilman Harold Greene said the truck could have left at any time.
Wentz told council that if they were unhappy with the job he is doing, they could remove him from his position as emergency management coordinator.
“I was under orders, and if you don’t like what I’m doing, remove me,” he said.
Hunsicker said she arrived on scene later on the day of the incident, and she and Wentz spoke, at which time she said Wentz approached her and said, “I don’t like you, you don’t like me.”
“I was being yelled at,” she said.
Change in contact
Earlier this month, council agreed to send a copy of a letter to Wittig to notify him of the change.
The letter states that effective immediately, Wittig’s point of contact in relation to garbage hauling within the borough would be the borough secretary. That will include, but not be limited to, any complaints, contract issues, late notice in service, missed pickups and so on.
In addition, council agreed that any legal matters related to garbage hauling within the borough will go through the borough’s attorney.
On Thursday, council said it would like to have borough solicitor Michael Corriere review the contract to determine how parties notify each other.
Wittig met with council in September after the borough fielded various complaints from residents on trash pickup.
At that time, Wittig told council he’s more involved with their municipality than any of the others his company serves.
Wittig previously said he doesn’t believe he’s been appreciated for going above and beyond what’s stated in the contract the borough has with his company.
Wittig said he’s taken offense to some of the comments and snide remarks he’s heard in the past.
The borough has been plagued with complaints from the community concerning garbage and recycling pickup for months.
Council hired Tamaqua Transfer last year to save money and improve customer service for residents.
Due to the change in companies, collection day was changed from Wednesday to Monday morning with every other Monday slated for recycling pickup.