Bowness gas station appeals clean-up order

The owner of a Bowness gas station that leaked thousands of litres of fuel last year has appealed a demand requiring it clean up the site, claiming the order is biased and based on faulty science.

The owner of a Bowness gas station that leaked thousands of litres of fuel last year has appealed a demand requiring it clean up the site, claiming the order is biased and based on faulty science.

CBC News obtained hundreds of pages of documents submitted to the Alberta Environmental Appeals Board, detailing a debate between Gas Plus Inc. and the Alberta Environment about the best way to clean up the contaminated site

Gas Plus' owner, Sal Handel, and his lawyer, Richard John, declined a request from CBC News for an interview.

But in a May 20 submission to the appeals board, John contends an environmental protection order requiring Gas Plus dig up the site and remove soil contaminated with hydrocarbons is an overreaction. 

"The metaphor of using a hammer to squash a fly is applicable here," writes John.
A number of families on Bow Crescent have been forced from their homes after a gas leak at a Gas Plus station in 2010 raised air quality concerns. ((CBC))

The submission goes on to stress that digging up and removing the contaminated soil is "unheard of" and that excavating the whole site is "without precedent" and "difficult to justify on the basis of public interest." 

Gaps in the data

Gas Plus' submission to the the board also claims there are gaps in the data that Alberta Environment relied on to conclude the contaminated soil needs to be dug up and removed.

John argues the order was issued "on a speculative basis rather than on a reasoned and scientific basis." 

Alberta Environment concedes there are gaps in the data concerning the fuel leak, but district compliance manager Darren Bourget says Gas Plus only has itself to blame.

"It's up to [Gas Plus] to provide us with that information," Bourget said.

"In the absence of those pieces of data we have to make decisions, and decisions that we think alleviate the risk."

Bourget also rejects claims the order is an overreaction, stressing thousands of litres of fuel leaked into the ground from Gas Plus last year.

"Removing source material from contaminated sites where there's been a large leak like this is not unusual," he says. "It's actually industry norm."

Gas station claims official is biased

Gas Plus disagrees, though, claiming Alberta Environment had already made up its mind before it even issued its order. Gas Plus' submission of April 28 to the Alberta Environmental Appeals Board claims Bourget formed a bias before ordering a clean-up because of media attention and pressure from nearby residents.

Gas Plus's submission stresses Bourget promised a group of owners at a public meeting that the ministry would – "without limitation" – do everything required to force Gas Plus to remediate the site. 

Bourget concedes he has a bias for protecting the environment, but he stresses his original order was last December before even meeting any of the residents living close to the contaminated gas station site.

"I don't think there's been any bias or pressure on the department or myself," says Bourget.

Dr. Monica Skrukwa and her family lives close to the Bowness gas station. She's hopeful the clean-up will start next week.

Skrukwa rejects Gas Plus' claims of bias and bad science, putting her "faith" she says in the technical teams of Alberta Environment, the city and an independent engineering firm hired to consult on the contamination.

"All of them agree that excavation would be the most appropriate form of remediation," she said. 

Despite the appeal, Alberta Environment remains confident the clean-up will start June 21 and finish by the end of July.