EAST PROVIDENCE — Fire Chief Joe Klucznik said Wednesday evening that Rhode Island Department of Transportation officials had taken control of a clean-up operation after approximately 24,000 gallons of home heating fuel spilled onto Valley Street and covered two nearby buildings earlier in the day.
The cause of the accident: A backhoe operated by a Cardi Corp. construction crew member punctured a 16-inch, high pressure pipeline, propelling the fuel 30-40 feet into the air.
A barge had been using that pipeline to offload the fuel from a barge to the Capital Terminal Co., located at Wilkes-Barre Pier.
“A police officer patrolling Valley Street, his cruiser got slammed by the fuel, and the fire department was notified at 8:57 a.m.,” Klucznik stated. “We came to find out that a company on Water Street had come into contact with a high-pressure transmission line offloading fuel to Capital Terminal on Dexter Road. We didn't know what we were facing until we got on scene.
“When that line was punctured, with that kind of pressure, it erupted and sent fuel spewing onto two buildings and flooding Valley Street,” he added. “We knew it was big when we responded; we saw a large pool of diesel, which is home heating fuel, and we had to close down Valley Street.
“We were informed Cardi Corp. crews were trying to remove lead from an area where Waterfront Drive will be located … We had an estimate of 24,000 gallons being lost, and we were trying to recover that fuel from the ground, the street and those two buildings.”
At about 6:30 p.m., Klucznik revealed the Seekonk River had been affected.
“As the tide dropped, it pooled the oil from the storm drains and into the river,” he said. “We now have companies trying to clean it up. It's in the ground, and there is a machine in the water as the DEM (Department of Environmental Management) is overseeing the clean-up phase.”
When the spill was reported, the city's fire and police departments, not to mention the Department of Public Works, responded to the scene. HAZMAT (or hazardous materials) teams from Providence and Woonsocket also were asked to respond.
“We called them because we wanted an assessment of the two buildings that were contaminated,” Klucznik noted.
“Both were vacant, which is the good news, but before people and items moved in we wanted to make sure that the air quality wasn't compromised, and that no flammable vapors were there to add to the problem.
“(The East Providence Fire Department) had a very limited HAZMAT crew because we were responsible for responding to Valley and Water streets,” he added. “I had companies at both sites … The thing is, this was an accident; this was unintentional. Why it occurred? I can't answer that.
“(That Cardi Corp. crew) was just performing a job it does every day, but a tooth of a backhoe just clipped the pipe.”
Dana A. Nolfe, a RIDOT spokesperson, didn't immediately respond to a call from The Times.