The provincial government has decided to search out the source of oil flowing from Gina Dolin-sky's property in Saanich, and not a minute too soon.
Dolinsky has incurred thousands of dollars in cleanup costs for a problem not of her own making. While she uses oil for heating, inspections showed that her tank is not leaking and her furnace is working properly.
When oil was first discovered leaking from her property in the spring, it was assumed it came from a house farther up the street, where a mistake in delivery resulted in 300 litres of oil being poured into the basement because the unused tank had been disconnected. That house had to be demolished.
But analysis showed that spill was not the source of the oil on Dolinsky's property. The most recent spill followed heavy rains and is believed to come from a buried tank in a nearby yard. That will place the responsibility for cleanup costs on another property owner, which is a relief to Dolinsky, but what she has been through has been unfair. As soon as it was determined her system was not the origin of the oil, she should have been off the hook.
Provincial authorities say they don't want to get involved in disputes between property owners, and that makes sense if it concerns a quibble over a property line or a prolific apple tree shedding its overripe fruit on the wrong side of the fence. Neighbours can work such things out.
But when it involves thousands of dollars in remedial costs and potential damage to the environment, officialdom should step in. Government exists to help us do collectively what we can't do individually, and when an oil spill crosses property lines, it becomes a collective problem that should be tackled sooner than later. When the issue is resolved, the property owner responsible for the spill can then be billed for the costs.
The situation underscores the fact that homeowners need to know they are responsible for oil tanks on their property, and that the tanks can present risks, particularly old and unused tanks.
The University of Victoria Environmental Law Clinic, in co-operation with the Gorge Tillicum Community Association, has studied the issue of heating-oil tanks, and has concluded they pose a major threat to the environment, as well as a heavy financial risk to property owners in the event of a spill. Most insurance companies don't cover such spills when they affect neighbours.
The clinic recommends the province and municipalities institute regulations, including mandatory inspections of tanks, a system wherein oil is delivered to a tank only if that tank bears a government tag confirming it is in good shape, and a requirement that oil-heating tanks are properly decommissioned if a new heating system is installed.
Those are sensible recommendations - governments should take heed. Yes, the preventive steps that should be taken by government and homeowners would come at a price, but the costs of cleaning up oil spills far exceed the costs of preventing them.
© Copyright 2013