Dominion Virginia Power has agreed to pay a $260,000 fine for two mineral oil spills earlier this year, including one that fouled a stretch of the Potomac River near Washington, D.C.
The state Department of Environmental Quality announced Oct. 31 that it had negotiated a “consent order” with Dominion to pay a civil charge of $259,535 for the spills, both in January, in Crystal City in Arlington County and near Staunton in Augusta County.
The order also proposes that the state be reimbursed $5,883 for its expenses investigating both incidents, and it requires the company to finish restoration work at the Augusta spill site and check through next January for residual contamination in Arlington.
“We have received the consent order, accept full responsibility and have notified the DEQ of our complete acquiescence to the consent order,” company spokesman Charles Penn said Tuesday in an email.
About 13,500 gallons of mineral oil leaked from a transformer at a power substation in Crystal City, where it flowed via storm sewer into Roaches Run and ultimately the Potomac. Another 9,000 gallons of the same type of oil spilled from a substation transformer in West Staunton, with some flowing into an unnamed tributary of Bell Creek and then into a farm pond. Bell Creek is a tributary of the South Fork of the Shenandoah River.
The company could have been fined a maximum of $2.25 million for the two spills, or $100 per gallon, DEQ spokesman Bill Hayden said. But he said the agency sets penalty amounts based on such factors as the size of the spill and what environmental damage it causes, including the number and type of animals killed. DEQ officials determined these spills did not warrant the maximum, the spokesman said.
In the Crystal City spill, 21 birds of three different species died from contact with the oil, and dozens more had to be treated at a nonprofit wildlife rehabilitation center from exposure to the sheen, which covered an 8-mile stretch of the river. The Potomac incident drew response from the U.S. Coast Guard, the District of Columbia’s Department of Energy and Environment, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The DEQ news release announcing its enforcement action noted that the company spent about $1.5 million responding to and cleaning up the Augusta County spill and $4.2 million on the Crystal City incident. Dominion reported it recovered all but 100 gallons of the West Staunton spill and all but 2,400 gallons of the leak into the Potomac.
Though the company has said it accepts the penalty and will comply, the DEQ will take public comment on its agreement with Dominion before finalizing the enforcement action. Comments may be submitted through Nov. 30, by email to Lee.Crowell@deq.virginia.gov, or by postal mail to P.O. Box 1105, Richmond, VA 23219.