MANCHESTER — J&S Oil faces federal sanctions, including a potential fine of up to $177,500, as the result of a March incident in which some 1,500 gallons of oil spilled onto the ground and spread to a neighboring property and drainage ditches.

The Environmental Protection Agency said Thursday it filed a complaint against the family- and employee-owned business. The central Maine company has offices in Manchester and Winslow.

J&S Oil President John Babb said Thursday that the company plans to contest the charges.

He said the company has been and remains in compliance with regulations, and has a certified spill prevention plan in place that was followed in the incident.

On March 8, used oil spilled from an oil tanker trailer parked inside a fenced-in area at the company’s Manchester headquarters.

“We’ll be contesting any of the allegations in the complaint,” Babb said. “We feel it was nothing more than an accident. We already have a certified (spill prevention plan) in place. We had it then. We have it now.”

Jeff Kopf, an attorney for the EPA, said such oil businesses are required to have plans, and secondary containment systems such as walls, in place to minimize impacts and risk of oil spreading if a spill occurs.

“The failure in this case to have a secondary containment system is evident from the fact the oil did, in fact, get released, and followed the flow of gravity and went off-site,” Kopf said. “The whole point of the regulation is just that — to prevent oil from being released into the environment if there is vandalism or a tank failure or something like that.”

The spill was reported around 4 p.m. when a worker at the adjacent Clark Marine noticed oil on the ground.

The oil was traced back to a tanker used to store used oil that was parked in a back corner of the J&S lot. Oil flowed across Clark Marine’s property and inside a boat storage building, and also flowed across Puddledock Road and into drainage ditches on both sides of the road, according to state Department of Environmental Protection officials who responded to help with cleanup efforts.

Kopf said the lone drinking water well the oil could have affected has been tested and showed no indication of contamination.

J&S employees responded immediately once they learned of the spill, according to DEP officials who were at the scene. Cleanup crews from Clean Harbors, J&S, and the DEP collected contaminated soil and oil from the site for several days.

Kopf acknowledged that J&S Oil was responsive to the oil spill and said the company has been cooperative so far. He noted $177,5000 is the absolute maximum fine and even smaller violations would receive the same notice issued to J&S warning they could be facing such a penalty.

J&S, which is owned by the Babb family and employees of the company through an Employee Stock Ownership Plan, has 30 days to respond to the complaint, and has the right to contest the charges.

Kopf anticipates regulatory agency officials will meet with J&S officials to go over the facts of the case, determine what the penalty might be, and try to reach a settlement.

If no settlement can be reached, the case would go to court.

Babb said the cause of the spill hasn’t been determined, but he suspects it may have been the result of vandalism to the tanker. He said there was no structural damage to the tanker, and the tanker was no longer leaking oil when the spill was reported.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

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