A Saskatoon business owner says the Environment Ministry is dropping the ball when it comes to monitoring underground gas tanks at abandoned service stations.
Neil Robinson runs Garden Architecture and Design. His store is across the alley from an old service station at the corner of Idylwyld Drive and 20th Street. The property, with its boarded-over gas pumps, is just one of 33 such inactive and decommissioned sites sprinkled across Saskatoon.
'And they didn't even know really that the gas station was closed at that time.' - Neil Robinson
Robinson is concerned because the station has been out business for years -- and it's on slightly higher ground than his business. He's worried that the old underground tanks are leaking and contaminating his property.
"When you look at the proximity of our property, being next to, or close to, this corner location here and where the river is quite often contamination flows to where the river is and, so, definitely red flags when you have a gas station but also major red flags when a gas station has not been cleaned up or remidified, the tanks have not been taken out," he said.
What upsets Robinson is what happened when he took his concerns to the Environment Ministry. It's responsible for administering provincial hazardous waste regulations.
"And they didn't even know really that the gas station was closed at that time. It's amazing to think that -- whose responsibility, where's the follow up on issues like this, because this is a major issue. Gas tanks in the ground, contamination, who is going to look after it?"
Wes Kotyk is executive director of the Environmental Protection Branch. He admits that the department did not know that the station has sat idle for more than five years.
Responsibility is with the owner
"The requirement is on the owner to notify us when they are planning to permanently decommission their site," Kotyk said.
"At some point, we would have come across this and identified it as something that needed to be done."
Since Robinson went to the government, Kotyk says the property's owner has done an assessment on the property and come up with a plan to get the tanks out of the ground. Kotyk says there's nothing at this point to indicate that the tanks are leaking into the surrounding soil.
Even though the branch monitors sites, Kotyk says it's the owner's responsibility to contact the government when a station is closed.
Of the 33 out-of-business service stations around the city, 20 are being decommissioned and 13 are inactive. The province does a risk analysis on the sites when deciding whether to let a property sit idle, or to push for a clean up.
"We focus our efforts on the higher risk items"
"When impacts are identified, we focus our efforts on the higher risk items," said Michele McEachern with the Environment Ministry.
"If the information shows minor impacts and the owner has limited resources we may consider allowing a gradual reclamation process over time to minimize financial hardship on the owner."
In some cases, a station's original owner may not have the money to pay for the clean up. Until 2005, the province had a fund to pay for clean-up of these so-called "orphaned sites."
Allyson Brady is with the Saskatchewan Environmental Society. She says the companies -- not taxpayers -- have the responsibility for the clean up.
"Companies that are opening these gas stations should have the money, the insurance in place to manage these sites, decommission them properly and the reclaim the area," she said.