The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Our Readers Speak

January 25, 2014

Our Readers Speak — Saturday, Jan. 25, 2014

Water crisis reminds us to ‘be prepared’

In the early 1980s, I worked for the Corps of Engineers in Anchorage, Alaska, as a mechanical engineer. My job description ended with the clause, “and other duties as assigned.”

For those of you involved with the Boy Scouts of America, this clause was a reminder supporting the idea of “Be Prepared.” I’m pretty sure that the idea of being prepared isn’t foreign to the Mountaineers of West Virginia

I was assigned the project of updating of the fuel, oil and hazardous waste contingency plans for the military bases in Alaska, which wasn’t exactly in the normal area of work that mechanical engineers are assigned. We tried to be comprehensive about the updating the plans and hoped that it would mostly be a writing assignment with an update of the inventory of each site and maybe some sentences reflecting the changes in the regulations.

It ended up being more because of the regulations. Projects had to be written up and funding secured to update the secondary containment around fuel oil tanks in locations where needed. The secondary containment had to be able to hold the full amount in the tank and have a membrane to keep the fuel from entering the water table and still be able to drain any water that accumulates without much fuss.

They have “valves” with oeliophilic material in them to accomplish the latter. You’ve probably seen the dikes that surround large fuel tanks. It probably would have cost less to do it 30 years ago, and the company could have already written off the expense. It probably cost more to deal with the contaminated water supply.

There was a debate at the Corps as to whether the secondary containment needed to be done, since it was already constructed out of compacted glacial till, which is not very permeable, but the regulations won.

Everybody has heard of the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska, but most people wouldn’t be able to name any spills from a fuel tank farm in Alaska because nothing major has occurred.

My take on the West Virginia water contamination issue is that they should take the advice of the Boy Scouts and “Be Prepared” by making sure that their secondary containment is up to current standards.

Keith Wellman

Freeland, Wash.

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