Board at the Sheffield sues over oil spill

From left: Sheffield condominium,  Amy and Adam Rose, co-presidents of Rose Associates and John Hess, president of Hess Corp.
From left: Sheffield condominium,  Amy and Adam Rose, co-presidents of Rose Associates and John Hess, president of Hess Corp.

The board at the Sheffield condominium filed a $3 million negligence lawsuit against Rose Associates, Hess Corp. and several other contractors, in connection with a 2012 spill that dumped 8,000 gallons of petroleum on the grounds of the building. The Sheffield is located just blocks from Columbus Circle.

The board claims that the contractors engaged in a series of missteps that created a ‘perfect storm’ that led to a massive fuel oil spill at the property, triggering one of the biggest environmental accidents in recent years, according to the complaint. The complaint was filed Jan. 27 in Manhattan Supreme Court.

According to the suit, the high rise has four 20,000 tanks in the sub basement that are used to store fuel oil to heat the building. In 2011, the city mandated the phase out of No. 6 fuel oil, in favor of a lighter and cleaner heating oil for these systems, or the use of natural gas.

Lawless and Mangione Architects, a Yonkers, N.Y.-based firm that’s a named defendant in the suit, was hired to develop technical specifications that would make the building compliant with the new rules, according to the complaint.

The suit claims that the specifications must allow for ‘secondary containment’ of any oil spill. Such containment would confine any spill to a limited area. The suit claims that since the oil was less viscous, the new specifications did not work and the oil was able to leak through natural pores in the concrete.

The lawsuit claims that Leardon Boiler Works Inc., of the Bronx, was awarded a contract to carry out the work, and subcontracted the work to a firm called Rite Way Tank Maintenance Corp. of Brooklyn, According to the suit, work was done on one of the tanks in Aug 2012, and a fill line was not properly reconnected.

According to the complaint, Rose was told that the work was properly done, and arranged through Hess to have 8,000 gallons of fuel oil connected to one of the tanks in October 2012. The suit states that a firm hired by Hess came to fill the tank, but failed to check for an audible ’whistle’ sound to confirm the oil was being properly filled. Because the fill line was not properly connected in August, the oil spilled into an underground vault and reached the gravel under a concrete slab at the property, subsequently spilling into an adjacent property owned by Hearst.

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The accident was reported to the state Department of Environmental Conservation and by the following day, Rose was ordered to clean up the site. Rose hired a firm called Langan Engineering to oversee the cleanup and that firm hired a company called Triumvirate Environmental to replace Rite Way as the contractor on the site.

By Aug. 2013, the agency served an order on managing agent Akam Associates Inc., according to the suit, and the board claims that it has incurred more than $3 million in costs and damages due to the spill. The board claims that it has paid a $40,000 fine to the state agency, and is still remediating both properties.

“We certainly tried to work out things with the insurance companies with each of the parties that became defendants,” said attorney James Periconi, who represented the plaintiffs. “We really didn’t make much progress. The cleanup costs as you can see from the complaint are extensive.”

Leardon officials declined to comment. A spokesman for Rose said he could not reach officials for comment.

But Rite Way owner and president William Weidman said his insurance company conducted an investigation and interviewed more than 100 people and found that his firm was not responsible for the spill. “I think the responsibility lies with the building and the professionals that the building hired,” he said.

He called the suit a ‘shotgun approach’ where everyone involved was named as a defendant, but said he believed his firm would come out okay in the litigation.

Officials at the other defendants could not be immediately reached for comment, nor could a spokesperson for the state.