Council hosts public hearing on Big Y gas station fuel storage

Larry Webster of Alfred Benesch & Company points out details in the Big Y convenience store plan to the Conservation Commission in August, 2019. (Photo by Amy Porter)

WESTFIELD – The City Council hosted its first public hearing by telephone on May 7 for a gas storage license for the planned Big Y Service Station at 330 East Main St.

The hearing was initially planned for March, but was postponed when City Hall shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Larry Webster of the Alfred Benesch & Company, representing the management company, said they are building the convenience store and gas station on East Main Street across from Big Y. He said the store is 2,000 square-feet with six fueling dispensers, two in-ground storage tanks, and electric charging stations per the city’s request.

He said work is proceeding on the site, which is cleared, and the new tanks are in the ground, although not hooked up. Presently, they are still engaged with the Mass. Department of Transportation on changes with the intersection on signalization and a left turn lane on the eastbound side. He said they are working on a series of comments from MassDOT on 75 to 100% completion of plans for the revisions of the roadway.

Webster said he would be happy to entertain comments, characterizing the project as a relatively small convenience store and gas station that will serve as a satellite to the Big Y Market.

Ward 6 Councilor William Onyski asked if Webster would speak about the safety features in the fuel tanks.

Webster said the tanks going in are double walled fiberglass construction, and are on the high end of industry tanks, with tens of thousands presently in service in the United States. He said the space between the walls is filled with a brine solution, so it doesn’t freeze. If the inner wall were to leak, brine would fill in and set off an alarm. He said the alarms are continuously monitored, and any leaks would be of brine, and not pose a significant hazard to the environment. He said Big Y has procedures in place for employees to respond to alarms almost immediately.

The underground tanking is also double walled, made of a fusion polyethylene pipe which is state of the art and is also continuously monitored. He said any leak would drain back into the pipe, set off an alarm and shut off the pipe. Dispensers have sumps underneath them, which any leaks would go into, and also set off an alarm. Webster said this particular configuration is used by Global and Cumberland Farms gas stations.

Onyski asked if the six fueling stations meant 12 hoses, which Webster said does mean 12 fueling positions, as each are double sided.

“There’s a pretty good amount of work going on site with regards to the tanks. What if MassDOT has changes,” asked Ward 5 Councilor John J. Beltrandi, III.

Webster said the company applied to the Building Department and received a permit to start site work and preparation, up to and including tanks in the ground, which he said are ballasted up to 50% capacity with water, and anchored.
“The city did require a Hold Harmless Agreement from Big Y. In case something were to happen, we couldn’t come back and hold the city responsible,” he said adding, “We were supposed to be before the Council in mid-March. Nothing in the current round of comments from MassDOT is about the site plan.”

At-large Councilor Kristen Mello asked about the fire suppression system, what it is made of, and how they were going to keep it out of the river.

Webster said the state mandates an overhead dry system at the islands, which is automatic and can be tripped any time by the attendant. He said it shuts down the fueling stations when fire suppression is released, and the overhead monitors are in direct view of the cashier. Per state regulation, there is containment around the fuel dispensers for five gallons, and fuel dispenser spills are typically 1 gallon. If a larger spill escapes the concrete mat, there are two larger areas that will trap the spill, and further on, there is a 1,000 gallon tank outflow.

Melllo asked what those dry chemicals are, and if they would come out in substantial quantities.

Webster said every other self-service gas station has the same fire suppression chemical, which has similar properties to baking soda, and is not hazardous to the environment; although it is a mess to clean up. He said he would send a safety information sheet on the dry chemicals to the City Clerk’s office for the council.

Other questions were posed about the left turn in the road, and the egress to the service station, before Council President Brent B. Bean, II said the matter before the council was the storage of gasoline, diesel and propane and brought the discussion back.

Ward 3 Councilor Bridget Matthews-Kane asked since the gas station is in the flood plain, what provisions did they make for flooding.

Webster said they had appeared before the Flood Control and Conservation Commissions on this question, and both had signed off. He said the tanks are sealed and water tight under normal conditions, adding that the one precaution they were asked to take was to secure the dumpster.

A motion was made to close the public hearing at the City Council and refer it to the License subcommittee.

On May 5, the Planning Board approved changes to the site permit for the Big Y gas station that were made by MassDOT. The changes included an island at the driveway entrance, and pedestrian access to the store.

“From my viewpoint, the changes they made are improvements, better than what we asked for. I think we should let it go,” commented Planning Board member Richard Salois at the meeting.

Robert Goyette said he had recommended an island on the plan, but had been told the DOT would not approve one. “Here it is back on the plan. I’m happy that the island is there,”

Cheryl Crowe also said she was good with the new plan, saying there is ample room for tankers to come in, and it gives them more leverage.

The Planning Board also said changes in the lighting are an improvement to the original plan.

A motion was made and passed to approve the plan as altered by the MassDOT.

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