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Oil tank spills continue to cause concern in Saanich

At least three more home heating tanks in Saanich have had spills, leaking at least 400 more litres of oil into the ground
Crews dig up oil-contaminated soil in the 2800-block of Adelaide Ave. in Saanich after an estimated 300 litres of home heating oil spilled on Feb. 3.

Since last November’s oil spill that saw 1,000 litres of home heating oil pollute the Colquitz River and kill a number of salmon, Saanich’s environmental advisory committee has been looking at ways to prevent a similar disaster in the future.

But in that time, at least three more home heating tanks in Saanich have had spills, leaking at least 400 more litres of oil into the ground.

“That is a big number, and how many more are there that we don’t know about that the homeowner hasn’t noticed yet?” said Coun. Vicki Sanders, who chairs Saanich’s environmental advisory committee. “There aren’t a tremendous number of people still using oil as their fuel, so what we can do is mainly on the education side.”

However, education wouldn’t have helped prevent the most recent spill.

On Feb. 3, an oil company mistakenly delivered and pumped oil into the wrong house on Adelaide Avenue – one that wasn’t even using oil as a heat source.

“What I understand is the oil delivery was made to a house that used to have an oil tank. And when (the home-owner) went to a different form of heating, they removed the tank and furnace, but there was still (an oil supply) pipe making a hole in the side of the house,” said Adriane Pollard, Saanich’s manager of environmental services.

B.C. Hazmat continues to work on the property, testing oil samples and replacing portions of Saanich’s storm water system that were contaminated.

“We still don’t know the extent of the contamination on the property, but the crews are chasing the oil down in the storm water system,” said Dave Rogers, senior incident commander with B.C. Hazmat, a private company that specializes in hazardous material management. Rogers expects crews will remain on Adelaide Avenue for a few more weeks.

In a typical winter, Rogers says his company responds to one spill a month. In the last seven weeks, there have been 11 home-heating oil spills in Greater Victoria that required B.C. Hazmat’s services.

“Most of them have been because the oil tanks are made by Burrard Yarrows and Victoria Machinery Depot. Those places went under and closed 20 years ago,” Rogers said. “All those ones are now deteriorating from the inside out. That’s been the major cause of a lot of contamination this winter.”

The municipality recently unearthed some old records that shows which Saanich homes have oil tanks – or had them years ago.

“Once we can establish where they all are, I would think we could send out a notice making people aware of the issue,” Coun. Sanders said.

Clean-up is now complete from the devastating Nov. 25 spill that saw oil contaminate the Colquitz River, as well as Colquitz Creek and Swan Creek.

“At this point no further remediation is required,” said Graham Knox, manager of B.C.’s environmental emergency program. “Key for us was (water quality) – sampling results and comparing them against the provincial aquatic life standards, and they’ve all come back (within acceptable levels).”

Ian Bruce, a biologist who was brought in by Saanich to help in the remediation, says the municipality shouldn’t be criticized for its response to the spill.

“In my experience of over a dozen fish kills including pollution events, each one is an individual case and there is no easy template to follow,” he wrote in a report on the spill. “In the future, with incidents approaching or exceeding the scale of this event, Saanich should look at engaging the stewards as ‘eyes and ears’ to supplement staff efforts. … It may be prudent for Saanich to make sincere efforts to reduce or eliminate the present adversarial relationship with the stewards of the Colquitz and other watersheds in the municipality.”

Chris Bos, one of the Colquitz River stewards who helped in the response efforts, says he’d like to sit down with all the agencies involved.

“It’s not about finger pointing, it’s about learning from what happened so that we can avoid it in the future,” he said. Like the environmental advisory committee chair, he anticipates better education for oil tank owners will play a crucial role.

Bos says he, as well as Saanich, will continue to keep an eye on the river and creeks through the coming months to see if the residual oil that remains trapped in upstream vegetation evaporates naturally or if further removal is required.

“There’s still oil on a lot of the vegetation, but it’s not causing a massive problem at the moment,” he said. “It’s still something that needs to be addressed because it’s not right to have it in the creek.”

He’s optimistic the spill no longer poses a danger for aquatic life – salmon, insects, seals, otters and herons.

“We’re going to try and count the (juvenile salmon) in the spring so we know how the overall watershed has done,” he said.

Bruce made seven recommendations to Saanich to help minimize the impacts of future oil spills, and improve the response. Among the recommendations was posting signage along public waterways informing the public how to “observe, record and report” pollution. There’s also a call for more training for field staff to help them identify spill material and track it back to its source.

Mike Ippen, Saanich’s director of public works, said the cleanup costs related to the November spill have surpassed $60,000.

The Kenneth Street homeowner who is on the hook for that bill, after his  underground oil tank feed line failed, told the News that he’s still dealing with his insurance company on the issue.

He said that oil tank owners need to be better educated on the potential environmental and financial impacts an oil spill can have.

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