WESTFIELD – Beginning with a request from a former councilor at the Aug. 19 meeting to postpone the public hearing for a diesel fuel island terminal to service Old Dominion Freight Line (OD) trucks at 74 Medeiros Way, the City Council spent the next hour and a half on the topic before continuing the hearing to September.
Former Ward 1 Councilor Mary Ann Babinski had been a vocal opponent during the special permit proceedings in 2019 to locate the company to Medeiros Way, due to its proximity to the aquifer and projected increase to truck traffic on the north side. During public participation at the meeting, she said the public hearing hadn’t been posted on the agenda in a timely fashion, only appearing that day on the city website, which didn’t give residents enough time to prepare.
Babinski’s request was also supported by Constance Adams of Root Road and Mary Beth Berrien of Roosevelt Avenue, who added that being located in an environmental justice community, the required neighborhood involvement was not there.
After Council President Brent B. Bean II called the public hearing to order, Michael Skuski, general contractor and Ron Sled, petroleum vendor for Old Dominion, presented the request for a special permit to install a 15,000-gallon diesel tank, 1,000 gallon cold-climate diesel exhaust fluid tank, and 55-gallon drums of oil, antifreeze and window washing fluid at the site.
Skuski said the diesel fueling station would be closed to the public, and strictly used for Old Dominion trucks to fuel at the terminal, reducing trips and congestion on public roads.
At-large Councilor Kristen Mello then asked if the council would be considering the public’s request to postpone at this time.
Bean said he would like to get the bulk of the information and leave the public hearing open. He said leaving the announcement off the agenda was an oversight of the clerk’s
office. “Abutters were notified, and the ad was in the paper. I understand that’s not enough. I’m of the thinking that we should move forward with this right now,” he said, noting that the representatives had traveled from Tennessee and Virginia.
Mello said she had a lot of questions that would have to be repeated in a continued hearing. Skuski said they were prepared to answer any technical questions.
“Perhaps the best way to go about this is to let them make their presentation tonight, and let the councilors ask their questions,” said Ward 1 Councilor Nicholas J. Morganelli, Jr.
Ward 5 Councilor John J. Beltrandi, III also said that the application would be vetted in the License Subcommittee which he chairs, following the public hearings.
“I don’t have the problem of receiving information tonight, as long as we protect the rights of our environmental justice neighborhoods. They have asked for accommodation and not received it,” Mello said.
Morganelli then read several questions he had received from Ward 1 resident Amy Beluzo, beginning with whether the fuel island is in addition to the original fuel tank on the plan submitted in 2019.
Skuski said the plans in 2019 included a tank for DEF fluid. He said the company wants to add the fuel aisle.
Beluzo also asked about the plan in place for leaks. Skuski said any fluid would go down a catch basin into an oil-water separator, where it would stay until cleaned out and removed.
Asked what if there is a fire, Sled said there would be a chemical fire extinguisher on the end of the tank, but that the flash point of diesel is a lot higher than gasoline, 140 to 100 degrees F, so a fire is unlikely. In response to another question, he said if Old Dominion were to close, the tanks would be decommissioned and removed.
Morganelli asked whether Old Dominion had considered the aquifer, which runs on either side of the property. Skuski said they had put in 11 feet of fill, and a million and a half gallons of subsurface water retention into the site, which allows it to run out slowly into the water system. He said it is important that no fluid from the fuel island tie into that, which is the purpose of the oil-water separator, which is not required.
Asked how much fuel would be used at the site and how often it would be delivered, both representatives said they would come back with a projection.
Sled gave councilors a handout that described the diesel station as having a tank within a tank with an interstitial space between them that is continuously monitored for leaks from the inside or the outside. He said the tank is ballistic proof, fire rated, and rated for truck impact which he said wouldn’t be allowed to happen.
He also said if the hose were ripped off, the system stops fueling automatically, which it also does if knocked over, or if fuel starts running. He said drivers would fuel their own trucks.
At-large Councilor Dave Flaherty asked if the proposal had been approved by the Fire Department, which Sled said had not yet been done.
Mello then asked several highly technical questions, which Sled said he would have to get back to her on, such as the boiling liquid expanding vapor explosion statistics for the tank. She also asked for the components in the chemical fire extinguisher.
Mello also asked why fueling wasn’t included when the project was approved. Skuski said it was not required by Old Dominion at the time.
The conversation then turned to why a fuel island was needed when there are ample places to purchase fuel in the immediate area. “It adds minutes, minutes cost dollars, costs go up. Part of OD’s analysis on adding a fuel island is to cut down on unnecessary trips and time that a tractor is on the road,” Skuski said.
Opening the questions to the public, Adams asked whether other Old Dominion sites in the area have or will have fuel islands. Skuski said he would get an answer for the next meeting. Adams also asked whether the fire suppression in the extinguishers contained PFAS, which Skuski said he didn’t know.
Babinski said she wanted to make sure all of the information the City Council is given will be posted on the website under pending applications. She asked if Old Dominion would be ready to wean themselves off of diesel fuel “soon,” which she said is going to be a push in the state in the future.
“Our first two priorities should be environmental justice and the health of the people,” Babinski said, adding that sometimes businesses are not going to be a good fit.
At-large Councilor Cindy C. Harris said the council has to balance the citizens’ concerns of having the fuel tanks there with the time expended by the company to buy fuel at a fueling station. “The bottom line is this is a business decision for money. How will this hinder Old Dominion’s business if the fueling tanks are not specifically on your property but are half a mile away. How do we balance the extreme concerns of our citizens by what appears to be a small economic concern of Old Dominion?” she asked.
“I’m going to ask that you ask the owners of Old Dominion to withdraw this request for a fuel island,” Morganelli said to Skuski, who said he would pass it along.
Sled then asked if he could get the questions in writing, and the public hearing was continued on a motion by Beltrandi, seconded by Morganelli.