Mount Vernon Column: About the Potomac Oil Spill

Mount Vernon Column: About the Potomac Oil Spill


Over the last several weeks, our area has been subjected to an oil spill fouling the Roaches Run waterfowl sanctuary and the Potomac River. Dominion Power claimed responsibility for a 13,500-gallon spill of mineral oil from the Crystal City substation, of which about 500 gallons contaminated the Potomac River. It is working with the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and US Coast Guard to clean up the remaining oil.

As of the end of last week, The Washington Post reported that stakeholders believed 95 percent of the oil was cleaned up or contained, though several Mount Vernon residents reported seeing residual oil as far south as the Belle Haven marina.

Twenty-one birds, mostly Canada geese, died due to the spill, while a wildlife rescue team is treating 32 other birds.

I’m glad to see that Dominion accepted responsibility for the spill and that they are discussing important next steps. I have contacted the DEQ about information regarding what those next steps will be, but Dominion Power will most assuredly face fines and be forced to reimburse the Commonwealth and Federal government for the cost of the investigation and subsequent cleanup and restoration efforts, which should also include reimbursing all the work put in to save the wildlife.

After speaking with local Soil and Water Commissioner, Scott Cameron, I identified to the DEQ a preferred roadmap for redress to the affected community that would ensure the fines and fees collected from Dominion remain in the region.

Dominion will have to pay for cost reimbursement for staff time, contract service support, equipment and other costs. Each of the agencies involved will typically pursue their own costs according to their own authority and process. DEQ informed me that it does plan to seek cost reimbursement.

With respect to enforcement, each of the impacted jurisdictions should pursue enforcement action in accordance with their respective authorities. Virginia DEQ’s authority to enforce is set forth in Article 11 of Title 62.1 of the Virginia Code. Pursuant to that authority and in accordance with normal procedures, DEQ plans to take enforcement action. By statute, any penalties recovered would be deposited into the Virginia Underground Petroleum Storage Tank Fund.

Through this process, DEQ will work with other Virginia natural resource agencies to conduct assessments of damage to natural resources. All of the trustee agencies will continue to coordinate an assessment of natural resource damages to establish a basis to recover all damage to resources. Recovery for natural resource damage actions typically results in natural resource restoration projects benefitting the local area impacted by a spill.

I have asked the DEQ to direct any federal aid dollars stemming from natural resource damages to the soil and water conservation district whose jurisdiction the spill affected, to the best of its ability. I firmly believe the funds should be spent on conservation projects in the affected watersheds.

In this way, locally elected officials who are serving in state agencies, with a mission prioritizing environmental protection are made responsible for spending the money where the damage occurred.

The damage is done, and I am not happy that the equipment was allowed to degrade to the point that it leaked upwards of 500 gallons into the Potomac River. I thank the stakeholders and the Coast Guard for acting quickly to clean up the spill and mitigate the damage, and I want our local Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District to know I stand firmly in their corner and believe that recovering funds to the affected areas, rather than going to the rest of the state would provide a silver-lining to this dark, oily cloud.

It is my hope that we can direct these funds to the appropriate bodies administratively. However, if this requires legislation, I will make it a legislative priority of mine in the next session.