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Saanich home destroyed in botched heating-oil delivery

Aging tanks bring a mess of trouble
Crews demolish Tuesday an Adelaide Avenue house, ruined by 308 litres of oil misdelivered to a disconnected tank.

A Saanich home was reduced to rubble Tuesday after efforts to clean up a heating-oil spill failed, making demolition the only option.

The spill this year resulted from a misdelivery by an oil company, which means that - unlike most of the increasing number of home oil-tank and pipe failures in Greater Victoria - the homeowner won't be on the hook for the $750,000 cost of demolition and rebuilding.

That cost will be picked up by the oil delivery company's insurer, said David Rogers, founder of B.C. Hazmat Management.

"The homeowner was renovating and had disconnected the oil tank, but 308 litres were delivered to the wrong house," Rogers said. "It went right into the perforated drains around the house and into the Saanich storm drain system."

B.C. Hazmat, a private company, has responded to 36 calls in Greater Victoria about heating-oil spills this year, about three times more than usual.

Most are because of aging oil tanks and lines, said Rogers, adding oil tanks last only about 15 years.

He said he can't understand why homeowners are not getting the message that they have to check and replace tanks and lines.

Few homeowners are insured for an oil leak, and the cheapest recent cleanup has cost $48,000, while most are in the $250,000 range, Rogers said. "That is straight out of the homeowner's pocket."

Many Victoria homes have oil tanks that were made by Victoria Machinery Depot, which went out of business 20 years ago, and those tanks are now failing, Rogers said.

Several insurance companies recently sent letters saying anyone with an oil tank more than 15 years old would not be insured for spills, Rogers said.

"The tank may have beautiful paint from 20 years ago, but they rust from the inside out," he said.

A new tank costs about $1,500, so putting aside $100 a year will avoid a catastrophic bill, said Rogers, who recommends double-walled tanks.

Possible legal changes and ways to stop tank leaks will be debated this evening at a public meeting at the University of Victoria.

Experts will discuss a report, prepared by the Environmental Law Centre for the Gorge Tillicum Community Association, that suggests B.C. should have mandatory tank inspections and a tag system to confirm tanks and pipes are in good shape. Companies should not be able to deliver to a tank without a valid tag, says the report.

A maximum lifespan should be set out and decommissioned tanks should be identified and inspected, says the study, written by Naomi Kovak and Trevor Johnson under the supervision of Environmental Law Clinic legal director Calvin Sandborn.

Learning the cost of cleaning up a spill should jolt people out of oil-tank complacency, Sandborn said. "We want to shock people into doing something before they get the big bill."

Many people do not realize leaking oil goes from perimeter drains into storm sewers and straight into salmon streams, Sandborn said.

There are more regulations around filling barbecue propane tanks than heating-oil tanks, Kovak said. "I think the province really needs to act on this."

One option is a fuel surcharge for homeowners. The money would go into a fund to pay for cleanups of registered tanks that leak. A similar system is in place in Washington, Kovak said.

That would mean people are not facing financial ruin, Sandborn said.

Tonight's meeting at UVic starts at 7, room 159, Fraser Building.

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