A West Saanich family is the latest to uncover a major oil contamination on their property.
Forgotten oil tanks have been the source for dozens of oil leaks throughout Greater Victoria for more than decade, most of them buried prior to the 1980s.
But the situation Cathy Blazkow and her husband Peter face is something much worse.
Sitting on the corner of their agriculturally zoned (A1) property at 240 Goward Rd. is an 80-tonne mound of contaminated soil removed by an environmental waste company. The soil is so contaminated, the Island-based company won’t take it, and it will now sit between tarps until the Blazkows can eventually barge it off the Island.
Since they discovered the oil last year the cost to deal with it has grown to the tens of thousands, with another $23,000 cheque dropping last week.
Of all her complaints, Blazkow is dumfounded that a municipality can go along without knowing about a major oil spill.
The couple bought the property in 2012, and recently discovered the oil during the excavation process to replace the garage.
“How can Saanich not have known this was a toxic dump site,” Blazkow said. “We checked the records and found there was a person who was connected to an oil company that lived here, and Saanich’s own aerial photos show multiple oil tanks and tanker trucks on the property prior to 2007.”
But when Blazkow asked Saanich if they saw the tanks on aerial photos she was told that staff won’t use the aerial photos for bylaw enforcement.
She also researched previous complaints to Saanich bylaw about the property and found two. One was from 2002, the other from 2004. Both were resolved, though she was told she can’t know what was in the file without her lawyer issuing a subpoena.
So Blazkow went door knocking and found the neighbour who issued the 2002 complaint. She said she reported a complaint that the previous property owner was using the agricultural land for industrial purposes.
“The person across the street said he witnessed oil tank trucks come in on a daily basis, but it didn’t occur to him that they would actually dump or leak oil into the ground,” Blazkow said.
“Saanich can tell property owners they can’t mow their lawns or put in gardens where they have [EDPA zoning], which is all done by aerial maps, but [bylaw] can’t see huge oil tankers on our property for many years?”
Blazkow is now getting headaches from the smell of the oil, she said. They had the drinking water tested and are relieved to see the results are within regular guidelines.
But they’re understandably miffed.
“When we bought this property we thought its A1 zoning would mean it was agricultural and therefore somewhat pristine,” Blazkow said.
Everything was going well until the Blazkows began excavating for a new garage. Above the garage is going to be a recreation room and an office. Blazkow’s daughter and her family also live in the house, along with Blazkow’s young granddaughter.
With a permit in place, builders dug down to install the foundation of the new garage, which was on the same envelope as the old garage, when they found the soils rich with oil.
“We noticed an odour of fuel or diesel oil, and when it didn’t go away, the contractor brought in an environmental company [to assess it],” she said.
A second assessment was necessary to find the extent of the contamination.
“It revealed a problem beyond the dig site and worse contamination than originally thought,” Blazkow said.
The hole is 15 to 20 feet deep.
There are precedents for previous owners found partly responsible for oil contamination in Saanich, such as the unknown home-heating oil tank buried under the backyard of Gavin Edwards’ and Donna Wingfield’s home on Adelaide Avenue. They also bought their home in 2012 and soon after learned the oil tank in their backyard was leaking down the hill though several properties and into the Gorge Waterway.
In February 2015, Edwards and Wingfield were ordered to pay 15 per cent of the neighbour’s costs, which were estimated at more than $100,000. Two of the previous owners of Edwards’ home were also ordered to pay, 50 per cent and 35 per cent, respectively.
However, reclaiming any remuneration is difficult, Blazkow said, as she has to prove the previous owners are responsible. They’ve hired a lawyer and are trying to solve the cause of the contamination.
If there’s one consolation, it’s that Saanich told them not to worry about the trees they’ve carefully fenced off during construction, in case they end up dying from contamination. Oil pooled below one of the trees when workers attempted to install fence posts.