NEW MILFORD — School officials are making urgent plans to replace three fuel tanks by the end of the year after discovering the units will soon hit a state-mandated age limit.

A plan to put the replacement of the three 10,000-gallon tanks out to bid will be put in place soon so the district can get cost estimates and determine how to pay for the work. An estimate from the engineer who audited the tanks placed the cost at about $300,000 to replace all three fuel tanks.

The state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection requires fuel tanks be replaced when they hit 30 years — a deadline established by the manufacturers and enforced by the state.

Oil tanks were installed at Sarah Noble Intermediate School and Hill and Plain Elementary School in 1989, meaning they will hit the limit next year. The installation date for the oil tank at the Lillis Building, where the central office is located, is unknown, but the tank is estimated to be at least 25 years old and will be included in the replacement, Facilities Director Kevin Munrett said at Tuesday’s school board meeting.

If a tank is left in the ground after this deadline, the owner is charged a $10,000 fine for each tank and then a daily fine until it is removed.

School officials learned of the problem in the fall after a series of events connected to fuel tank tests, Superintendent of Schools Joshua Smith said.

While testing them, officials installed check valves on the tanks, totaling about $7,000. When pulling the permits for the work, it came to light that some of the tanks weren’t registered when they were installed. School officials investigated and learned three would have to be replaced because of their age.

The tanks have since been registered with DEEP and school officials have been working with the state, Smith said.

Some school board members wondered if the state would be lenient with the deadline, especially because they were already taking the steps to replace the tanks and there were no environmental hazards. None of the tanks is leaking and no soil contamination was found.

“I don’t think we need to panic anyone,” board member Joseph Failla said.

He said the state has to understand that a municipality can’t turn around and pull a tank out so quickly.

“I think we’re rushing,” he said, adding he has a hard time justifying spending about $300,000 in a difficult economic climate. “It’s hard to believe DEEP will come on Jan. 1, 2019, and start hitting the schools with a fine.”

New Milford is facing about $3.4 million less revenue next fiscal year.

Smith said school officials are speaking with the town about the tanks. Mayor Pete Bass has included money for fuel items in the town budget he presented last week.

Board member Wendy Faulenbach echoed Failla’s caution during the meeting.

“It’s a large number to come up with and to have six or seven months to do it,” she said.

kkoerting@newstimes.com; 203-731-3345