Effingham Removes Fire Chief from Groundwater Protection Role

Effingham—March 21, 2024—Effingham residents at Town Meeting approved a zoning ordinance change removing the Fire Chief from having a defined responsibility in the Groundwater Protection Ordinance.

The vote was 224 to 63 in favor of the change, which was recommended by the Planning Board in February.

The recommendation came on the heels of months of accusations by opponents of the Meena LLC gas station plan that the board was avoiding having the Fire Chief sign off on the developer’s Spill Prevention Control and Countermeasure Plan, something the zoning ordinance requires.

Spill Prevention Control and Countermeasure Plans (SPCCPs) are local documents requiring recipients of special use permits to account for how they plan to safely store and handle controlled substances, such as gasoline.

The plans also provide town officials with a road map for how to address the release of hazardous substances in the event of a natural or man-made disaster. Fire Chiefs are one of three categories of municipal officials that the state recommends to serve as the point person in such matters, along with health officers and emergency management professionals.

Meena’s SPCCP was rewritten multiple times over a two-year period after North Point Engineering, the Planning Board’s third-party technical advisor, said the document was inadequate.

When North Point signed off on a final version last fall, it reminded the Planning Board that the zoning ordinance required the Fire Chief to review and approve it. Instead, the board voted unanimously to recommend that the Fire Chief’s review role be eliminated.

Planning Board Chair George Bull said the role was “unfair” to the Fire Chief because he was not trained for such work, adding that the town was in “legal limbo” over the requirement.

Bull said most towns don’t require a Fire Chief’s review of SPCCPs, although neighboring Freedom does. He said DES official Matthew Jones told him the Fire Chief’s role was not “appropriate,” and an independent third-party review would be preferable. Jones subsequently denied making the statements.

Effingham Fire Chief J.T. Harmon appeared at several public meetings at which his role in SPCCPs was discussed. He, however, has never publicly commented on the matter.

3 Comments

  1. Skip M 4 weeks ago March 22, 2024

    Please publish George Bull’s phone number so I can call him when there is a gas spill at Meena. I’m sure he’ll know what to do.

    REPLY
  2. Gloria Villari 4 weeks ago March 22, 2024

    Effingham Planning Board
    🙈🙉🙊

    That’s our motto! We’ll only say what you want to hear. Water-swatter. Not our town and besides, science isn’t real!

    I’ve never heard of a more cowardly solution.
    Shame on you all.

    REPLY
  3. Ed C 3 weeks ago March 26, 2024

    Train the Chief, Fire Chiefs are in charge of flammable liquids and hazardous materials. when there is an incident the fire dept will be the first ones called. If he can’t be trained or won’t be get another Chief. This board does not have a clue on what they are doing!

    REPLY

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