Municipal authority sues LMSD over oil spill
SUNBURY - A lawsuit accuses Line Mountain School District of negligence for allegedly failing to install an "adequate pressure gauge" on a fuel pump that malfunctioned, spilling 1,250 gallons of heating oil into a municipal sewer system.
Lower Mahanoy Township Municipal Authority seeks $143,453.65 plus additional fees for damage its attorneys say was caused by the Feb. 10 spill at the former Dalmatia Elementary School. The lawsuit was filed Aug. 15 in Northumberland County Court after "repeated demands for payment" were unsuccessful. It alleges negligence, breach of contract and trespass.
The lawsuit claims a 30-pound pressure gauge was installed on the heating system's fuel transfer pump in January, replacing a defective 200-pound gauge. It says the new gauge was inadequate to handle the 300-psi (pounds per square inch) fuel transfer pump.
The oil drained onto the building's basement floor and was automatically sump pumped into a septic tank before entering the sewer system. The sewer plant at 132 River Road, near the Susquehanna River, is about a half-mile from the school.
The authority's plant was shut down for three days. An estimated 30,000 gallons of sewage was hauled away daily. Service, however, was not disrupted to the authority's 234 wastewater customers. At the time, the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) said the leak caused no contamination.
Line Mountain, which connected the Dalmatia building to the system in 2002, should also be held accountable for the design of the building's basement floor and septic system, and for allegedly failing to notify the municipal authority of any heating system defects just prior to the fuel spill, the lawsuit states.
The municipal authority had requested payment by May 23. According to its customer terms, it claims the school district is liable for a 10 percent penalty for every 30 days the bill goes unpaid.
The Dalmatia building closed for good in June 2013 following district realignment. In May, an agreement was reached with Jeremy Strohecker to purchase the building for $25,100. He submitted the lone bid. The property had been appraised at $220,000. The sale is on hold after the municipal authority placed a lien on the building.
The school board moved in July to contract McLauchlan and Associates Inc., of Annapolis, Md., which specializes in forensic mechanical services. The firm will test the gauge and system as a whole to see how exactly the leak occurred. Rich Roberts, board solicitor, said the test will be done Thursday.
Roberts declined further comment on the lawsuit Friday, saying he has not yet read the complaint. School board President Troy Laudenslager was unaware a lawsuit had been filed and also declined comment.
In March, the school board retained McNees Wallace & Nurick LLC, Harrisburg, to represent it in the event of a lawsuit. That came after the authority and its insurance company notified the district of a potential claim.
The authority is represented by its solicitor, William R. Swinehart, and Robert J. Muolo of Wiest, Muolo, Noon, Swinehart and Bathgate, Sunbury.