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1/19/2013 2:42:00 PM
Oil spill cleanup costing tiny parish big bucks
Photo contributed by Father John McGuire
Contaminated oil, 400 tons of it, has been removed from St. John’s property.
Photo contributed by Father John McGuire
Contaminated oil, 400 tons of it, has been removed from St. John’s property.
Clarice Keating
Of the Catholic Sentinel

CONDON —  As it turns out, dirt isn’t always cheap. St. John Parish community learned this after the discovery that an underground oil tank had likely been leaking since its installation when the church was built.

The environmental nightmare has depleted the parish’s entire savings account, and more expenses are expected. The removal of the tank and 400 tons of soil, along with the testing and sampling, has racked up approximately $15,000 in bills.  
“Our parishioners feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of this project,” said Father Rick Fischer, temporary parish administrator, in an appeal for help.

Parishioner Jeff Schott, an engineer with Pillar Consulting Group Inc., has volunteered his project management skills to coordinate the cleanup. He said they haven’t even discovered yet if the rock below the soil is contaminated, as well as the soil underneath the church, which will be substantially more difficult (and expensive) to remove. Schott guesses the entire project could wind up costing as much as $60,000.

The regulatory agency that oversees these types of projects in Oregon is the Department of Environmental Quality. If the problem is not dealt with, Schott said, a lien or deed restriction can be placed against contaminated property, and the environmental hazard leaves the property owner vulnerable to lawsuits.

The leak was discovered when the parish was repairing an underground sprinkler system. Workers noticed an oil sheen in the groundwater.

Condon is a community of 700 people. St. John is parish church to missions in Fossil and Arlington.

“If we have 40 people at church on Sunday, it’s a pretty good day,” Schott said. “So it’s a significant burden to a very small parish “

Father John McGuire, a retired Archdiocese of Portland priest who is filling for some pastoral duties at the little parish, said the support they’ve received from the community has been touching.

“Everybody has pulled together,” he said. “We have received financial offerings from the various churches in town. It’s really a beautiful place.”  

To assist with the cleanup effort, contact the parish office at 541-384-5271.

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