Navy officials reveal what caused NAS Oceana jet fuel spill last week

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Navy Mid-Atlantic Region Commander, Rear Adm. Jack Scorby gives a statement on how the fuel spill happened Friday, May 19 at NAS Oceana.
Navy Mid-Atlantic Region Commander, Rear Adm. Jack Scorby gives a statement on how the fuel spill happened Friday, May 19 at NAS Oceana. (Justin Belichis/Southside Daily.)

VIRGINIA BEACH — Officials Friday released information about how 94,000 gallons of jet fuel spilled from Naval Air Station Oceana last week.

During evening refueling operations on May 11, a fuel switch was in an incorrect position, causing fuel that would normally fill three 880,000-gallon tanks to overflow a smaller 2,000-gallon tank for several hours, according to Navy Mid-Atlantic Region Commander, Rear Adm. Jack Scorby.

“Unfortunately 94,000 gallons had spilled from this tank at the fuel farm, and we estimate 25,000 gallons went off the installation into our community,” Scorby said. “Exactly how the switch was in the incorrect position remains under investigation.”

The Navy discovered the fuel spill at around 6 a.m. the following morning. According to a Navy news release, the loss equates to $184,000 worth of fuel at $1.91 per gallon.

Of the 25,000 gallons of JP-5 jet fuel that spilled into waterways in local communities, the release states 80 percent of it has been recovered as of Wednesday, May 17.

To get to that number, crews collected 180,000 gallons of water and fuel in the affected areas. The contaminated water is being sent to Craney Island and placed in a lined roll-off dumpster for proper disposal, the release states.

So far, there have been no reports of fuel contaminating the Lynnhaven River.

The final price of the cleanup hasn’t been determined, but that the Navy is responsible for covering the cost.

After Navy officials announced Wednesday that families in the area could temporarily relocate to hotels, 48 families have moved.

About 125 homes in Nottingham Estates and 55 homes in Cheltenham Square and several nearby businesses were affected by the spill.

The Navy expects the temporary relocation to last until Tuesday, but urges residents to keep receipts if they request an extension for possible reimbursement.

Since May 16, air quality readings in the affected neighborhoods are near zero and continue to decline. The Navy also tested two residents’ drinking water wells in the area, which came back clear, according to the release.

Crews are still assessing residential property damage.

Scorby said the Navy has made immediate corrective actions in the meantime. So far, it’s doubled the number of managers for the tank and fueling operations and reviewed processes and procedure with personnel.

According to Scorby, a spill like this hasn’t occurred in the history of NAS Oceana’s existence.

At this point, wildlife responders have recovered 701 dead wildlife — 75 percent of them being common fish species, according to a Navy news release.

While the city is still in an emergency phase of the mitigation process, Scorby said the military expects to enter a remediation phase as early as next week.

There are no plans to mechanically replenish contaminated soils at this point, as it could cause more damage to the environment compared to letting nature take its course, the release states. The Department of Environmental Quality will create the remediation standards during the next phase of recovery.

“I’m here to tell you the Navy knows the inconvenience the fuel spill has caused,” Scorby said. “We are responsible for the spill, we own it and we are committed to making it right.”

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