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    Fuel spill streaks the river

    Crews quickly begin mopping up the roughly 140 gallons of diesel.

    By AMY HERDY, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published June 25, 2002

    TAMPA -- The smell of fuel downtown led to an unsettling discovery Monday: A generator on the roof of a high-rise had malfunctioned, spilling more than a hundred gallons of diesel into rain gutters and then into the Hillsborough River.

    [Times photo: John Pendygraft]
    The telltale rainbow sheen on the water betrays the presence of the diesel.
    A Tampa Fire Rescue hazardous materials team arrived at the eighth floor of the 26-story Park Tower at 400 N Tampa St. shortly before 10 a.m. Monday. About 140 to 150 gallons of diesel leaked onto the roof and into rain gutters after an emergency generator maintained by Time Warner Telecom overflowed.

    Apparently a routine self-test by the generator determined it needed more fuel. The tank refueled itself from a larger tank in the building but it did not shut off the flow when full.

    Diesel overflowed onto the roof where rainwater helped wash it into the storm drains that lead to the Hillsborough River, said Tom Henley, a spokesman for Time Warner Telecom, owners of the generator.

    Because that floor was under construction, no evacuation of employees was necessary. Firefighters helped stanch the flow of oil to the storm drains using cat box filler and plastic, then the Coast Guard and the state Department of Environmental Protection inspected the river near the University of Tampa.

    The damage appeared to be minimal, officials said.

    "There was quick response from all the agencies involved, and that helped contain it," said Domenic LetoBarone, a DEP emergency response coordinator.

    "I didn't see any fish floating by the seawall. That's a good sign."

    LetoBarone said Time Warner Telecom hired a private contractor to clean up the oil. A boom, or circle of oil-absorbent material, was placed near the storm drain that was leaking fuel into the river, he said.

    Also, heat from the sun later Monday morning worked in their favor, LetoBarone said. "The sun helps break it up and burn it off," he said.

    Henley said Time Warner did not yet have an estimate on the clean-up costs.

    The storm drain emptied the oil into an area of the Hillsborough River near the Kennedy Bridge. Friday afternoon, an oily sheen topped the river, which had banks littered with beer cans, plastic foam cups and various pieces of clothing.

    -- Amy Herdy can be reached at (813) 226-3386 or

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