As cleanup crews continued working Thursday to remediate a Jan. 12 diesel-fuel spill that fouled waters along the border of Camden and Gloucester counties, New Jersey Transit's top executive was vowing the transit system will maintain a "consistent presence" along the waterways and in the area.
An estimated 26,000 gallons of diesel fuel poured from two underground storage tanks at NJ Transit's Washington Township garage sometime overnight Jan. 11-12. The diesel fuel made its way into nearby Grenloch and Blackwood lakes, which are connected by Big Timber Creek—a tributary of the Delaware River.
On Thursday, NJ Transit announced a representative will be on hand at the garage, located at 6000 Route 42, weekdays from Monday, Jan. 23, through Friday, Feb. 3, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. to address residents' concerns over the spill.
A transit system representative will also be made available on Saturday, Jan. 28, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. for those who cannot make it to the garage for a weekday session.
NJ Transit and state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) officials will be in attendance at the Township Council meeting Monday night to brief township officials and take questions from the public on the spill, according to Mayor David Mayer.
NJ Transit also launched a toll-free hotline on Thursday to specifically handle calls from area residents with questions, issues and concerns regarding the spill.
This hotline—800-626-7433—will be staffed from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. NJ Transit vows messages received outside of this time fram will be addressed immediately the following day.
NJ Transit anticipates the initial phase of the cleanup effort will conclude this week.
That does not mean the transit system intends to pack up and leave, according to its executive director.
"NJ Transit will be a continued and consistent presence within the community as we work to alleviate the impact of last week’s fuel spill," James Weinstein said in a statement. "We are grateful to the people of Gloucester and Camden counties for their support and look forward to further strengthening this spirit of collaboration in the days and weeks to come.
"Let me be clear—our work has only begun," he concluded.
The fuel spill was discovered by a supervisor at the Washington Township garage at around 9 a.m. Jan. 12, approximately an hour and a half after firefighters from Gloucester and Washington townships began receiving reports of an unusual odor in the area.
The spill has been attributed to a failed gasket on a pipe linking two 16,000 gallon storage tanks beneath the garage, which is home to about 100 buses. The tanks had passed a state DEP inspection on Dec. 22, according to officials.
It remains unclear whether NJ Transit garages—there are 15 such facilities across the state, including three in South Jersey—are equipped with alarms or similar equipment to alert workers of issues with fuel storage tanks.
Asked about the existence of alarms or similar devices on fuel storage tanks and plans to limit environmental exposure with future spills, NJ Transit spokesman John Durso Jr. offered only a general response, citing the ongoing investigation into the Jan. 12 spill.
"We expect that the results of the investigation, once complete, will strengthen our operations moving forward," he said.
As of Thursday, private contractor Clean Venture Inc., of Elizabeth and Clayton, has recovered 9,000 gallons of diesel fuel from the affected waterways, NJ Transit said in the statement. Also, 185 tons of contaminated soil has been removed from the garage site at Routes 42 and 168.
While pleased by the progress of the cleanup effort a week after the spill, Mayer said it is important for local officials to remain "vigilant" throughout the process.
"We're going to keep an eye on the progress to make sure the lakes are returned to their natural settings," he said.
The DEP is overseeing the ongoing cleanup effort.
A faint diesel odor remained in the area of Grenloch Lake Thursday morning, particularly nearby the Clean Venture crew, but the odor had completely dissipated downstream at Blackwood Lake. Residents along Blackwood Lake indicated the odor was persistent till Sunday or Monday.
NJ Transit community affairs officials attended a meeting of the Washington Township Environmental Commission Thursday evening. Members of the Gloucester Township Environmental and Open Space Advisory Committee and Blackwood Lake Advisory Committee were extended invitations to that meeting, Mayer said.
Read Gloucester Township Patch's full coverage of the diesel fuel spill: