After tanker wreck, homeowner keeps his sense of humor

Equipment that helps clear the air at Joel Brookes' home. Photos by Shawn Cunningham

Equipment that helps clear the air and groundwater at Joel Brookes’ home. Photos by Shawn Cunningham

By Shawn Cunningham
©The Chester Telegraph – 2014

When Joel Brookes sat down to his morning coffee and looked out the window on Friday, May 16, he had no idea he was about to begin a journey that would stretch two years into the future. After watching the 10,000-gallon P&H tanker turn over and slide to a halt in front of his house on Route 11, Brookes climbed up on the wreck that was leaking gasoline into his vegetable garden and helped Ronald Drown – the driver – to get out of the cab.

Now, nearly two months later, the view out Brookes’ window is dramatically different. Gone is his garden, his garage and some of his trees. In their place is an industrial landscape that includes a rig designed to force air into his yard and force gasoline-contaminated groundwater and fumes into carbon filters and the 31 wells that contain those filters.

Joel Brookes site

A new concrete pad is awaiting a replacement garage, the clean up apparatus is in the background and the white dots on the ground are filtering wells.

The machinery runs day and night and purifies the ground water to the point that it’s drinkable. “It’s quieter than I thought it would be,” Brookes says on Monday.  When this system no longer finds contamination, the cleanup will be done. The estimate for this, however, is one to two years.

When some of the 2,500 gallons that were spilled migrated into the middle branch of the Williams River, the entire site had to be excavated and Brookes’ garage had to be torn down.

Today there is a new concrete slab awaiting construction of the replacement garage and a stone retaining wall by the river.  In the flood of Monday, July 28, water was up to the wall and trees were bumping along it. “Steve Fisher did a great job on that wall,” says Brookes.

Workers continue to shore up the Brookes property.

Workers continue to shore up the Brookes property.

Farther downstream on Brookes’ property is a huge tangle of trees and brush that washed ashore, which Brookes calls “organic rip-rap.” After watching the river on July 28, Brookes feels that the bend in the river below him needs to be rip-rapped or he says, “The river’s going right into the motel the next time.”

After the accident, Brookes was upset that he had lost an ancient asparagus patch. The trucking company’s insurance carrier saw to it that soil and compost for a new garden site was delivered and it’s yielding beautiful vegetables – including cabbages that dwarf a bowling ball. And after many tests, his well remains uncontaminated.

Brookes retains his sense of humor, if not all his land, with his 'pot of gold.'

Brookes retains his sense of humor, if not all his land, with his ‘pot of gold.’

Brookes points to the large cast iron pot that was uncovered in his front yard.  “They told me it was a scalding pot for butchering,” he says. As a joke, he has painted rocks gold and piled them up in the pot. “I guess that’s a Vermont sense of humor,” he laughs.

Brookes has been told that the cost of the cleanup is over $1 million and continues to climb and he says that he knows that everyone is doing the best job they can to put things right. Still, he has never received a single call from the trucking company and not a word of apology or support. “I’m still waiting for that courtesy call,” he says, smiling.

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  1. John Hoover says:

    Thank you for this article. I drive by this site several times a week and was curious about all the apparatus that had been installed there. A very well-written and informative follow-up.

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