Route 11 followups: Cleanup underway at gas tanker accident site; fire probe continues

9 .m. Wednesday, May 21: Gasoline from the accident has begun to reach the Williams River. Chester Fire and Police departments and the Springfield Fire department were on the scene putting down booms, as was homeowner Joel Brookes. The Agency of Natural Resources has been called to the scene. Read the update here.

By Shawn Cunningham

Joel Brookes’ front yard stinks. Four days after the tractor trailer containing 10,500 gallons of gasoline rolled over and skidded to a halt next to his garden, you can still smell some of the 2,500 gallons that leaked there.

Brookes by the gas hole

Joel Brookes stands near the pit where his garden used to be. Photos by Shawn Cunningham. Click any photo to launch photo gallery.

“After the boom, it sounded like a jet coming toward me, knocking down telephone poles and my apple tree,” said Brookes. He gathered his dog up into the garage and went out to help the driver, Ron Drown, get out of the overturned truck.

Within minutes, the Chester Fire Department arrived and set up a 1,000 foot evacuation zone, sending Brookes and another household away until Saturday morning. At 10 a.m., on Saturday, Environmental Products and Services showed up and began digging up contaminated dirt. The contractor was hired by Energi, the insurance carrier for P&H Transportation, which owns the truck that crashed.

According to Brookes, the contractor worked until 2 p.m. and didn’t come back until 10 a.m. on Monday. “If this was (Gov.) Shumlin’s yard, they’d have worked round the clock,” said Brookes. Reached for comment, Evan Huhtala, regional safety manager for Energi, said, “We’re cleaning till its done.”

Asparagus spear

A stalk of asparagus from the old patch was destroyed by Friday’s gas spill.

Brookes says he doesn’t doubt that the insurance and trucking companies will do the best they can, but he says, “It will never be right.”

Brookes believes that a larger portion of the gasoline soaked into the soil under Route 11 and will continue to leach out into the replacement soil in his yard for years. “But they aren’t going to tear up the road just to clean up my yard,” said Brookes.


Booms used to take gasoline out of the water in the pit in Brookes’ garden.

When Brookes and his wife Deborah bought the house a year and a half ago, part of the attraction was the mature apple tree that was broken in the crash and the old asparagus patch that was drenched in gasoline on Friday.

In addition to the soil, Brookes is concerned about the gasoline migrating to the river or to his well. He points to the foul water at the bottom of the pit in his yard. “It hasn’t rained in a few days. That’s the water table,” he points out. A white boom floats in the liquid.

According to Marci Waite of Spilltech, its  “Oil Only” booms are made to float and absorb oil and other hydrocarbons (like gasoline) while repelling water. Each 10 foot boom (pictured) can absorb 7.5 gallons of gasoline.

Brookes says that the emergency personnel who responded to the wreck on Friday did a great job, but now he believes he alone is stuck with the problem. “Where’s a courtesy call from the trucking company, where’s Shumlin, where’s  Bernie (Sen. Sanders)?” Brookes asks. “At least come and look, it’s part of their state. If this happened next to the Winooski (River) they’d be there. I guess we’re just a little too far south.”

A call by The Chester Telegraph to P&H Transportation on Tuesday, May 20 was not returned.

On-going probe in Field Farm house

According to Chester Police Chief Rick Cloud, last Monday’s fire at Field Farm on Blue Hill Road remains suspicious. Chester Police are working with state arson investigators to find the cause. The fire, which started in the northeast corner of the 1822 structure, remains a mystery. The owners of the house, Ferren and Leah Bratton, have helped police to reconstruct where things were in the house when they last were here. The Brattons currently live in of Mamaroneck, N.Y. Chester Police continue to run down leads including checking out cars that were seen in the area and creating a timeline of the incident.

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  1. Chad Fickert says:

    In reading this article I feel there has been some misunderstanding of Mr. Brookes comments. I took away from this article, as well as the others relating to this situation, that Mr. Brookes’ concern is that this is not a matter of just he and his property. Rather, it could have an adverse affect on the entire Chester community. I agree there should be state support from within the highest of political offices, not just for Mr. Brookes, but for fellow concerned members of this community as well. Frankly, should the chemicals pollute the water source behind / or as part of his property, it then becomes a community issue much greater than it currently is.

  2. Cynthia Prairie says:

    Hi Deborah,

    While Joel’s sensitivity to others is deeply moving, in this situation I’m finding it difficult to pick out any place where his apology is warranted. Your property has been seriously damaged by this accident. And your lives and your home could have been lost if events had taken the wrong turn. Still, Joel put himself in even more peril by jumping in to help the driver of the rig.

    It is reasonable to expect contact from the owner of the trucking company — not just the insurance agency — who should not only reaffirm his commitment to cleaning up the gasoline damage and restoring the property as quickly as possible, but to thank Joel for helping his employee.

    Also, it only makes sense to expect the state to jump in to expedite and oversee the cleanup to protect the waterways that we all use and take such pride in. This is one function of our tax dollars.

    Cynthia Prairie,
    Editor, The Chester Telegraph

  3. Deborah Brookes says:

    He doesn’t expect the state to clean it up, but would like State support. He said that he deeply apologizes if he offended anyone.

  4. I think that Mr. Brookes’ concern was that the spill be cleaned up quickly and that the state – through various agencies including ANR – could move the process along. He has legal rights, but only after the fact.

  5. Robert says:

    Re: Truck accident
    The trucking company must clean the site not Gov. Shumlin.
    The property owner has legal rights against the trucking company, not against the state.