Foxboro Feature 4/29/18 (copy)

A swan and a lone fisherman share the solitude on Neponset Reservoir in 2018.

A home heating oil leak discovered on Neponset Heights Avenue last fall is fueling an environmental catch-22 for boaters seeking access to Neponset Reservoir this spring.

According to local conservation officials, the leak occurred at the lakefront home of Warren Heaton of 68 Neponset Heights Ave., whose family operated a boat livery and small engine repair business for many years and which remains the primary access point for pontoon boats and other sizeable watercraft toted by trailer to and from the lake.

Upon discovering the spill on the day after Thanksgiving, water levels in the reservoir were ordered lowered in an effort to keep oil from spreading beyond the cove at Kersey Point. A containment boom, recently removed, and absorbent materials also were installed as emergency measures.

Water levels have since been raised somewhat, controlled manually through a spillway located near the railroad tracks midway between the Chestnut and North Street grade crossings.

But until contaminated soils are fully removed from the Heaton property — a process which hasn’t even started yet — local and state environmental officials warn that raising them further could prompt more seepage and another oil plume on the lake.

This has left some seasonal boaters high and dry, since the Heaton launch remains the only facility on Neponset Reservoir capable of handling larger boats used not only by recreational boaters but also for municipal public safety operations.

A separate launch installed in late 2019 at an obscure Edwards Road site long visited by fishermen and small boaters, is suitable for canoes, rowboats and other small craft, but not launching boats from trailers, conservation commission members said Monday night.

“If they can launch [on Edwards Road] they are going to be putting their tires into the mud, which means they need more power to pull out,” said commissioner David Opatka, who along with his colleagues voiced frustration at the lack of urgency in cleaning up the original spill.

Commission Chairman Robert Boette speculated that Warren Heaton hopes to reopen his boat launch this spring while continuing to drag his feet on addressing the actual contamination. Under the circumstances, Boette was uncertain if the town could prevent the business from reopening.

“I don’t know what we can do to light a fire under him,” Boette mused during Monday’s Zoom meeting.

But conservation Manager Jane Pierce said EndPoint LLC, an environmental firm hired by Heaton, is under an April 9 deadline to file remediation plans with the state Department of Environmental Protection.

Officials from both state and federal environmental agencies had inspected the site after the Nov. 27 incident and voiced satisfaction with the preliminary response. Since then, however, little progress has been made towards a permanent cleanup.

Pierce suggested the state environmental agency and local commission had overlapping administrative jurisdiction at the site. But she also admitted the situation was confusing and probably not a high priority at the state level.

“If the DEP has compelled them to file by April 9 what could we do that would be stronger?” Pierce asked rhetorically.

“If DEP doesn’t do it, I think [the town] should try and get a lien against his property,” the chairman replied.

In one respect, the lower water levels in the reservoir are proving advantageous, however.

Representing the Neponset Reservoir Committee, Richard Lewis of Munroe Street told conservation members that seasonal herbicide treatments to control growth in the lake typically are more effective with water levels still lowered. Those treatments are scheduled for May, he added.

“Less water means less chemicals,” Lewis observed.