New Brunswick

Demolition causes twinge in homeowners who sold to Irving after butane leak

It's a bittersweet day for Heather Follett as her former home on River Avenue was set to be demolished, a year after a butane leak from the nearby Irving Oil refinery prompted the company to buy some of the most affected properties.

'It's a little hard on the heartstrings'

Houses on River Avenue in Saint John are being demolished after being purchased by Irving Oil shortly after a butane leak in January 2018. (Graham Thompson/CBC)

It's a bittersweet day for Heather Follett as her former home on River Avenue was set to be demolished, a year after a butane leak from the nearby Irving Oil refinery prompted the company to buy some of the most affected properties.

"It was the first home I ever bought," Follett said Monday. "Both my children learned to drive their bikes on that street. It was our first family home." 

Follett and many of her neighbours on River and Pleasant City Street sold their houses to Irving Oil after a damaged butane pipeline forced the evacuation of the neighbourhood in January 2018.

Residents spent five nights in a hotel until they were given permission to return after repairs were made and no gas could be detected. 

Butane is a colourless, highly flammable gas derived from petroleum.

Heather Follett says it's bittersweet seeing her former home torn down. (Graham Thompson/CBC)

The leak in the four-inch pipe leading to the refinery was discovered Jan. 8, when employees were making checks in preparation for maintenance work.

Contractors are demolishing the homes bought by Irving and tore several down over the past several days.

'Hard on the heartstrings'

The area where the houses are being demolished has been restricted. (Graham Thompson/CBC)

Follett said some people get to drive by their former homes, but her family won't be able to that again. 

"It will no longer exist. It's a little hard on the heartstrings." 

She and a close friend she made after moving to River Avenue talked over coffee Sunday night about how they were feeling.

"Our homes that were just steps away are gone and now we're more than a few miles away from each other," Follett said. "It's a little difficult." 

Country living in the city

When asked what it was like to live on River Street, Follett said it was country living in the city. She said the street was hidden and had little traffic. 

"It was almost the perfect setting. We had a nice big lot, room for the kids, room for the dog." 

Follett said most of those who have sold and moved stay in touch through a Facebook group created after the evacuation. 

Many have been posting pictures as the houses come down.

Houses waiting to be demolished on River Avenue. (Graham Thompson/CBC)

Follett said that for the most part, her family was treated fairly by Irving Oil in the purchase, considering the house was worthless after the leak. 

"We were able to move and purchase a new home. We're comfortable but it definitely wasn't an excessive amount of money."

Irving Oil has not responded to a request from CBC for information about the demolition.

With files from Graham Thompson

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