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Houlton Public Works garage needs to replace underground fuel tank

HOULTON, Maine — The town of Houlton is exploring options for its public works garage after an underground fuel tank failed a recent test.

Houlton Public Works Director Chris Stewart informed the council Nov. 12 that the fuel depot’s underground tank was beyond its 30-year manufacture warranty period and needs to be replaced following a failed inspection.

“We are not leaking any fuel into the ground, but there is a leak between the first liner and second liner of the double-walled tank,” Stewart explained. “What that means is we are now done putting fuel into the tank.”

The Maine Department of Environmental Protection has allowed the town to keep using the tank until May 31, 2022. At that time, the 6,000-gallon tank — which includes 4,000 gallons of diesel fuel and 2,000 gallons of gasoline — must be removed.

“No matter what we decide to do, the tank has to come out of the ground,” Stewart said.

Insight Construction and Service Solutions of Hermon quoted a price of $181,575 to remove the underground tank and replace it with a new above-ground tank. The council had not been setting aside any funds to cover such an expense and would need to add the cost into the 2022 municipal budget or take the money from its reserves.

Stewart first broached the idea of replacing the underground tank with an above-ground model in 2017.

“Unfortunately, we need to move quickly on this,” Stewart said.

If the town decides to go with a new, underground tank, there is a 30-week wait time for installation to occur. Stewart said an above-ground tank may have a slightly shorter wait time.

“The real benefit of going with an above-ground tank, though, is you no longer have to have an annual inspection, which costs $500 a year,” he said. “And you no longer have to deal with the Maine DEP. You only deal with the Maine Fire Marshal’s Office.”

A separate containment building would be constructed, should the town pursue the above-ground tank option. In addition, Stewart said new pumps should be installed.

“The pumps we have are tired,” he said. “The electronics that tell how many gallons were pumped and who pumped it … everything is tired.”

The town could, instead, pursue getting fuel from a local provider such as DOC’s Place, with drivers given gas cards. But Stewart said he was not in favor of that option as local gas stations have no backup generators to provide fuel if the power goes out. 

“If you have a bad storm, with a power outage for any length of time, we would have no way to get fuel,” he said. “Pretty much the whole county relies on us to get their fuel … Sheriff’s Office, Maine State Police, we are it for emergencies.”

He added that on a good storm, the public works department can use more than 1,000 gallons of fuel keeping roads cleared.

The council took no action on Stewart’s request and will revisit the topic during its next meeting on Monday, Oct. 25.

HOULTON, Maine — October 15, 2021 — The town of Houlton’s Public Works Garage, located on Bangor Street. (Joseph Cyr | Houlton Pioneer Times)

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