March 19, 2021 [New Haven Register] – New Haven Harbor watchers take note: the waterway is about to become home to two more large oil tanks.
Not that many people are counting as they whiz by the industrial corner of the harbor while crossing the Pearl Harbor Memorial Bridge — or when they sit in traffic on said bridge — but that brings the number of tanks on the east side of the harbor to about 100.
The new tanks also mean the storage capacity of Safety-Kleen, an oil recycling and environmental cleanup company, will increase to more than 6 million gallons.
It brings the total number of tanks on the harbor and lower reaches of the rivers that feed it to about 115, according to an activist who has counted them.
In this case, the new tanks, which the City Plan Commission approved, will be used to store used oil for Safety-Kleen, which already stores used oil that it recycles in three other, nearby tanks on the same site at 120 Forbes Ave.
The two new, above-ground storage tanks, each 72 feet in diameter, will add capacity to store an additional 3.64 million gallons of used oil. That will raise Safety-Kleen’s on-site storage volume to 6.42 million gallons, representatives said.
One person raised questions about the application when the City Plan Commission met to consider it.
Chris Ozyck, a neighborhood environmental activist and boater who lives up the Quinnipiac River in the city’s Fair Haven Heights section, questioned the need for more tanks at a time when reliance on oil is waning.
“What will happen when we get beyond the oil-based economy?” asked Ozyck, who said Thursday that the total number of tanks is about 115, including several in the Long Wharf area on the west side of the harbor and in the lower reaches of the Quinnipiac River. “What will happen to these tanks?”
Ozyck also questioned the construction, which will include the tanks within a berm that previously was constructed to keep the oil in, should there ever be a major leak. He said the berm would do nothing to keep floodwaters from rushing in, should there ever be a major weather event.
“It’s not (that I’m) against that issue … but I do have questions about climate change and resiliency,” said Ozyck, who is associate director for the Urban Resources Initiative at Yale but said he was speaking to the commission as a resident.
“A number of residents complain about the odor when they go by the tanks,” Ozyck said. “It really does affect people’s quality of life.”
Project Manager John Schmitz, an engineer for BL Companies in Meriden, explained Wednesday that the containment berm “is specifically designed to contain leaks from a tank.” It is not constructed to keep floodwaters out of a tank, he said.
If the property ever were to be sold in the future, it would fall under the Transfer Act and “it’s the owner’s responsibility to clean up any contamination on the site,” Schmitz said. He said he was unaware of any contamination currently on the site.
Safety-Kleen official David Paquette said there has been some contamination found on the site in the past, but “anything found there we have to remove.”
Responding to Ozyck’s question about what might happen were society to move from an oil-based economy, Paquette said, “We’re not going anywhere, even if the oil lines go away in 50 years, sometime in the future.”
Safety-Kleen, based in Richardson, Texas, and founded in 1963 in Milwaukee, has been a subsidiary of Norwell, Mass.-based Clean Harbors Inc. since 2012.
Safety-Kleen has owned the site at 120 Forbes Ave, which has a rail link, since 2016, although there has been a motor oil recycling operation there since 2001 as part of a larger historic use of the area in the harbor for oil tank farms going back 100 years.
The company bought an additional 54,000-square-foot portion of Waterfront Street from the city for $100,000 in 2019 to enhance the rail connection.
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