Dirty surprise: Saanich construction uncovers 80 tonnes of contaminated soil

Two enormous piles of covered contaminated soil dominate the five-acre agricultural property Cathy and Peter Blaskow co-own with their daughter and her young family near Prospect Lake.

One heap is almost six metres high, another about three metres.

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The fuel-contaminated mess has cost them $40,000 to dig out and pile up in the last few weeks, and they’re far from finished, Cathy Blaskow said.

The stinky problem arose a few weeks ago when the Blaskows began construction of a new garage.

“We started to dig and the smell was awful — it smelled like diesel fuel,” she said.

The site was about 50 metres from the house on land that did not appear to have been used. They called in a hazardous waste company.

“They took out at least 80 tonnes and piled it up on the property,” she said. That cost $17,000 but they haven’t got the bill yet for the rest of the soil removed and piled at the bottom of the property.

She said they were billed a further $23,000 to fill in a yawning hole that reached about seven metres deep at spots before the fall rains begin.

The Blaskows bought the property at 240 Goward Rd. in 2012 because their daughter owns two horses and needed a barn.

Blaskow has already had the water supply tested and it’s fine, but she worries about the safety of the soil on the property especially with grandchildren, aged six and three, on the premises.

An above-ground oil tank and oil stove were removed around the time of purchase and they converted from oil heat, Blaskow said.

The contamination appears to be from a large amount of furnace oil spilled on the ground, said Blaskow. The company they hired to deal with it found other toxic substances such as solvent.

The retired math teacher, 70, is dismayed to discover that there were complaints to Saanich about how the property at 240 Goward Rd. was being used in the early 2000s.

Aerial photos on the Saanich website show above-ground tanks and tanker trucks on the property in the early 2000s, she said, but “in 2007 it was clean.”

She has filed freedom of information requests with the municipality seeking details of how Saanich handled the complaints.

“To me it’s absolutely amazing that something like this could happen. I’m just upset with Saanich,” she said, adding that the municipality has done “nothing, absolutely nothing” to assist them.

Saanich points out that contaminated soil and site cleanup are regulated by the province, not municipalities, and it is up to owners to fix them.

“While Saanich certainly understands this citizen’s frustration, it’s important to note that responsibility for removing contaminated soil on a private property resides with the current or previous property owner,” a statement said.

Saanich staff responded to two calls expressing concern about the property. The first was investigated on July 3, 2002, and closed once compliance was achieved. A second call on July 30, 2004, was investigated and then closed “as no violation took place,” a Saanich spokesperson said in an email.

The Blaskow family has hired a lawyer to explore a lawsuit against the previous owners.

“Hopefully, there will be an amicable settlement,” Blaskow said. “If we’re going to talk, then there’s no lawsuit.”

The massive amount of soil has been deemed too hazardous for trucking and disposal on Vancouver Island, Blaskow said. Barging the soil to the mainland would involve at least a dozen truckloads at an estimated $5,000 each, she said she has been told.

“We cannot afford to do it.”


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