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Oil leak at Saanich home a mystery as owner pays to investigate

Nov 23 2012
Crews demolish Tuesday an Adelaide Avenue house, ruined by 308 litres of oil misdelivered to a disconnected tank. 

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

Photograph by: Adrian Lam, Times Colonist , Times Colonist

The mystery is deepening around the source of oil that leaked from a Saanich home's draintile, but the only way the puzzle will be solved is for the homeowner to play detective on her own dime.

Gina Dolinsky of Adelaide Avenue is already on the hook for thousands of dollars in cleanup costs, as, like most homeowners in Greater Victoria, she was not covered by insurance when oil started running from her property into the Gorge waterway - even though the oil did not originate from her home.

The immediate suspect was a nearby house that had to be demolished after heating oil was mistakenly pumped into a disconnected tank this year.

Tests now indicate that the oil did not come from that property, although Dolinsky said she will be asking an expert for a second opinion.

The tests leave no room for doubt, said Dave Rogers of B.C. Hazmat Management, the environmental cleanup company working on the demolition site.

"There are two distinct fingerprints," he said.

That eliminates any help from Federated Insurance, which is acting for the company that misdelivered the oil.

Now Dolinsky - not the municipality or the province - is responsible for persuading neighbours they should test their properties.

"The underlying philosophy is polluter pay," said Colin Doyle, Saanich's engineering director. "If the pollution is coming from your property, the onus is on you to prove it's not yours and then identify where it comes from."

The municipality does not have the authority to go onto private property looking for oil leaks or underground tanks that have not been properly decommissioned, Doyle said.

"You are responsible for your own property."

A statement from the Environment Ministry says the provincial government's role is to provide oversight for spill cleanups and ensure an appropriate remediation plan is in place.

Dolinsky, with the help of Wittich Environmental Services, tracked some oil to a neighbour's property.

Although the former owner would not let her investigate, the new owner has cooperated and paid $1,100 to clean up the small amount of contamination.

The oil did not originate on his property, said neighbour Gavin Edwards.

"Wittich Environmental found faint traces in the area, where it crosses to Gina's property," he said.

"It could have originated to the east or north, but, unless people are willing to do a search right up the hill, we won't know."

That's the problem, said Dolinsky, who is hoping the Gorge Tillicum Community Association will help persuade neighbours to have their properties tested.

"I hope we can work together because this is an oil spill in our neighbourhood and we haven't found the source yet. Who knows where it came from and if it's going to flow on to someone else's property. We need to find it and clean it up."

Rob Fleming, NDP environment critic, said B.C. has good cleanup laws, but weak legislation when it comes to preventing spills.

"We have all these aging oil tanks and they are really putting homeowners at risk," he said. "Some people, through no fault of their own, are liable, and it can ruin people."

OIL TANK TIPS

Saanich has produced a new brochure giving tips on oil tank safety and providing emergency numbers. Suggestions include:

? Check the tank after every fuel delivery.

? Protect the fuel line between the tank and heating system.

? Look for rust, particularly where legs are welded to the tank. Clean off rust and apply rustproof paint.

? Watch for leaks in the fuel filter or a plugged nozzle.

? Ask your supplier to visually inspect the fuel line for leaks.

? Keep a spill kit handy.

? Watch for unexplained increases in oil use.

? Keep the tank full over the summer to reduce water condensation.

? When replacing a tank, don't reuse the old oil.

? Service annually and replace the oil filter.

? If the tank is decommissioned, ensure all piping is removed or capped.

? In case of a spill, call the

Emergency Management B.C. Co-ordination Centre at 1-800663-3456

For more information, go to saanich.ca/services/utilities/ spills.html

CHECK YOUR INSURANCE, BROKER WARNS

Even a gold-plated insurance policy is unlikely to offer protection if someone's home heating oil leaks onto neighbouring properties, says Eric Hartley, owner of Bill Hartley Insurance Services.

Some policies cover damage to the owner's home if there is a leak - and every home owner should check their individual policy - but almost no policies cover damage to other properties, he said.

"They usually exclude oil spills or other sorts of pollution," Hartley said.

"Homeowners are vulnerable, and we try to encourage all homeowners to replace their oil tanks regularly."

The oil spill exclusion tends to be an industry standard, probably because of the potential cost, Hartley said. "But stuff still happens - like oil companies filling a tank by mistake."

A report by the University of Victoria's Environmental Law Centre found that all but one of the companies offering homeowner policies in Victoria have pollution exclusion clauses.

"Even when insurance was in place, one court found that the presence of the leak amounted to an inherent defect in the property, rather than an incident giving rise to a valid insurance claim," the report says.

"Many property owners are ill-informed about the risks associated with home heating oil systems and the potentially disastrous costs associated with their failure."

Judith Lavoie

jlavoie@timescolonist.com

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