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Potsdam needs to prove it’s not at fault for oil spill

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POTSDAM — A soil sample taken from the front of 35 Market St. showed no sign of oil contamination, but several more sample holes will need to be drilled to prove the town was not responsible for the oil spill that was found in the basement of the former town hall.

Town officials believe the oil, which was found during renovations at the site, soaked into the soil after an oil tank buried beneath 33 Market St. sprung a leak in 1972. The tank belonged to Leonard Thomaris, who died in 2008.

However, the state Department of Environmental Conservation requires proof that the town is not responsible for the contamination.

The first soil sample, taken by drilling a core in the sidewalk in front of 35 Market St., came up clean. To prove the town had nothing to do with the spill, one core will need to be drilled every ten feet in front of the building.

If the town can prove it was an “aggrieved third party,” and not at fault for the spill, it will be able to apply for state funds to help recoup the cost of cleanup. More than $50,000 already has been spent on mitigating the oil-contamination in the basement.

The town board approved a $6,750 contract with Brian Jacot, a consultant with Greystone Strategies LLC, Saratoga Springs, to create a plan to show the town isn’t at fault.

Once the samples have been taken, it will be up to DEC to determine the next step. It may choose to pursue action against whoever was responsible for the spill, but this will likely prove difficult. The man who owned the location at the time has died, and the property has changed hands several times since 1972.

It is still unknown whether the DEC will wish to check neighboring properties for contamination, and what this may mean for businesses that line Market Street.

“I don’t know what they’ll ask us to do at that point, whether that will be the end of it or not,” said Town Supervisor Marie C. Regan.

Once the renovations are completed, 35 Market St. will serve as the Town Court. Renovations have been delayed several times, with the discovery of the oil spill causing one of the biggest setbacks, but the site will be finished early next year.

The town also is constructing a new Town Hall on 18 Elm St., which is nearly completed.

“There hasn’t been a day that we haven’t been over at one or both of those places,” Mrs. Regan said.

The town board approved the purchase of furniture for the Town Hall on Monday. The building will be finished by the end of the year, and the town offices will move to their new location in January.

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