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Another fuel spill in Saanich; leak goes into Blenkinsop Creek

Dec 11 2012

Saanich public works crews are mopping up after yet another fuel spill into a municipal creek.

Saturday's home-heating-oil spill spread a sheen on Blenkinsop Creek, which drains into Swan Lake. It follows a spill last week of diesel into Colquitz River and another recent home-heating oil spill into the Gorge.

Saanich public works manager Mike Ippen said Monday the department got a call early Saturday afternoon about heating oil in Blenkinsop Creek.

Heavy equipment demolishing a house on Cedar Hill Cross Road had apparently punctured a buried oil tank in the yard, he said.

Public works crews put 14 booms on Blenkinsop Creek between the spill site and the lake, said Ippen. "My staff tell me the property owner had removed an above-ground tank from inside the house before demolishing it, but this must be an older tank that predates the other," he said.

Another spill last Wednesday is now believed to have been an accidental spill of diesel into a storm drain at Tillicum and Burnside roads, he said.

There have been 28 reported spills of contaminants this year, compared to a dozen between 2004 and 2011.

"This is not normal," said Ippen.

Some of the most significant spills have involved home-heating oil from storage tanks that are both above ground and underground.

While owners selling their homes are required to sign a disclosure statement indicating there's a storage tank on the property, it's apparent many property owners are unaware they have a potential pollution source at hand.

That was apparently the case in Saturday's spill and an earlier one on Adelaide Avenue, which leaked into a neighbour's yard and eventually into the Gorge waterway.

Saanich has a policy of charging the owner of the offending property for cleanup costs.

Ippen said so far, "virtually all" of those property owners have indicated they'll pay those costs.

A fact sheet from the provincial Environment Ministry says homeowners are potentially liable for cleanup costs whether they are aware of the existence of an oil tank or not.

Prospective purchasers are urged to have properties inspected for fill pipes and vent pipes, which can indicate the presence of an underground tank.

They can also make purchase offers subject to inspection by a building inspector or an underground storage tank locator. An environmental consultant can provide an estimate for removal, investigation or remediation, which can be discounted from the purchase price of a house.

Capt. Ken Gill of the Oak Bay Fire Department is grateful his community isn't facing the same number of incidents as Saanich. In 1998, Oak Bay determined there were 1,800 underground oil-storage tanks in the municipality and many were no longer in use.

The municipality launched an education program, letting homeowners know they were on the hook for cleanup costs if the tanks leaked, said Gill.

"A lot of people were not aware that these existed," he said.

As of August 2012, only 350 tanks remain in the municipality. The others were removed or filled with clean material.

As a result, spills of home-heating oil in Oak Bay are "very, very rare," he said.

smcculloch@timescolonist.com

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