Three home heating oil leaks that have found their way into Bowker Creek and the Gorge Waterway this month are just the latest in a long list of expensive spills across the region, and local MLAs believe the province needs to do more to protect homeowners.
On the evening of Jan. 5, Saanich received a call from Oak Bay fire crews about an oil sheen and strong smell of diesel fuel on Bowker Creek near Mortimer Street. Booms were installed in the area, but finding the source of the leak proved difficult.
“Crews estimate they lifted over 50 manhole covers looking for the source of the fuel,” said Harley Machielse, Saanich director of engineering.
It took about 24 hours before the leak was traced to a home in the 1700-block of Kisber Avenue, nearly three kilometres from the site of the Bowker Creek booms. An outdoor home heating oil tank was found to be leaking at the Shelbourne Valley home and into a perimeter drain, Machielse said.
Public works crews installed a siphon dam at the property line to stop fuel from leaving the property, and the oil tank was pumped out. Booms were also placed in nearby manholes to protect Bowker Creek, Machielse said.
“We’ll keep those booms up in place and do regular checks on a daily basis to see if there’s any additional contaminants being collected,” he said. “In this case, they weren’t large spills.”
The spill on Kisber Avenue was estimated to be about 100 litres.
On the morning of Jan. 6, another oil sheen was called in by Saanich Fire Department along the Gorge. In that case, crews quickly found a storm water drain that was carrying the oil and traced the leak to a home on Walter Street, about half a kilometre away in the Tillicum-Gorge neighbourhood.
Without a recent reading to indicate how much heating oil was in the tank, crews have no way of making an accurate approximation of the oil spill, Machielse said.
The Kirby and Walter Avenue spills aren’t the first to cause financial headaches for homeowners. In 2012, a couple on Ambassador Avenue was forced to pay $48,000 in clean-up costs after insurance didn’t come through.
A 2011 report released by the University of Victoria’s environmental law clinic titled Preventing Home Heating Oil Spills in British Columbia, focused on seven suggested provisions to take part of the onus of clean-up costs off homeowners.
Among the recommendations were: improved physical requirements for tanks and equipment; limiting the length of time a tank can be in use; regulating oil delivery; inspection and monitoring requirements; tank decommissioning requirements; and direct economic incentives for homeowners to change heating fuels. So far, the provincial, regional and local governments have not taken action.
“The number of spills from failed tanks is growing, which puts Saanich’s waterways at even greater risk,” said Victoria-Swan Lake MLA Rob Fleming. “The provincial regulations aren’t at all preventative which leaves homeowners to potentially face shocking liabilities from oil contamination of their properties.”
To initiate discussion on oil tank spills, Fleming and Saanich South MLA Lana Popham are jointly hosting a community forum to discuss how to reduce risks for the environment and homeowners on Feb. 5 from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at Spectrum community school, 957 Burnside Rd. West.
Machielse was confident that no more oil will leak from the concerned properties, and he said crews would continue their clean up. Property owners are responsible for hiring professionals to complete the work and for the municipality’s clean-up costs.