Gas leak at Phoenicia Country Store leaves gaping hole

By Jay Braman Jr.
Smack in the middle of Phoenicia’s business district, another massive blemish appeared with little notice several weeks ago.
That blemish, a dug up parking lot where Verona Oil Company’s Country Store sits, was supposed to be a two-week event in a community already suffering from blight from the now infamous Phoenicia Hotel site next door. But immediately after an inspection by the New York State Department of Conservation (DEC) two weeks ago, all work suddenly stopped, leaving a gaping hole in the ground and a large excavator perched precariously atop a pile of gravel at the site.
Local shopkeepers were shaking their heads in disbelief as the Presidents’ Day weekend approached, that all important economic booster that comes every February in the form of a three-day weekend. This year, Valentine’s Day fell on that Saturday also. It’s anyone’s guess as to whether the mess on Main Street hurt business, but the way things have been going lately, most who depend on the tourist trade would rather not have had such a variable in the mix.
So, what actually happened?
Verona Oil announced in mid-January that they were closing the Country Store for two weeks to do what they described as “renovations” to the premises.
What was actually happening, according to Wendy Rosenbach, a DEC spokeswoman, was Verona was carrying out its responsibilities under a December 10 consent order issued by DEC. The order was prepared after routine inspections discovered violations on the property which cost Verona $5,000 in fines.
“They did not have proper leak detection,” Rosenbach said Monday.
The consent order requires that the old underground fuel tanks must be removed by March 15.
But before taking out the old tanks, Verona started the process of installing new ones on another part of the property. During that process, Rosenbach said, work crews discovered underground spills. DEC was notified and another inspection yielded another layer of trouble.
“We are requiring an investigation into the spills to see how bad the contamination is,” she added.
It is also possible, Rosenbach said, that the contamination may be from days gone by. The property has a history of being a gas station well back into the mid-1900s, long before Verona took it over.
Rosenbach notes that there has not been any stop work order issued on the project. In fact, DEC can fine Verona an additional $37,500 if the old tanks are not removed before March 15.
“We want the old tanks removed,” she said.
It remains unclear why the project has halted, but Rosenbach said the next step is for Verona to do the spill investigation at their own cost. Then they must do the clean up. Monitoring wells might be required to determine how far the contamination has spread, she said, but it is too soon to tell.
Another wrinkle is the fact that the property sits a stone’s throw from two main arteries of the New York City water supply, the Esopus Creek and the Stony Clove Creek. Rosenbach said that, as a courtesy, the City’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has been informed of the situation. DEP has not yet returned calls.
Verona Oil, based in Roscoe, is a company doing an estimated $71.3 million in sales annually with 15 stores in the region and 250 employees.
CEO Craig Verona did not return phone calls this week. The company’s owner, Richard Verona, is on vacation until March and could not be reached.