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Clean up of petro-chemical leak underway for months

Pipes run into a couple of curious buildings hidden behind wooden fences on the Whistler Petro-Canada and Creekside Lodge sites, and every few days engineers visit to check machines inside the buildings.

Pipes run into a couple of curious buildings hidden behind wooden fences on the Whistler Petro-Canada and Creekside Lodge sites, and every few days engineers visit to check machines inside the buildings.

The structures and pipes are part of an effort to remove petro-chemicals and hydrocarbons that have leaked from the Petro-Canada station storage tanks and contaminated the ground around the station and beyond.

The leak is believed to have come from one of the distribution lines on the Petro-Canada site, "probably for a number of years," said Stephen Dankevy, pollution prevention officer at the Ministry of Water, Air and Land Protection. A hydrocarbon "plume" of contaminated soil and ground water now extends southwest from the service station, beneath London Lane, Highway 99 and to the edge of the Whistler Creek Lodge property.

The leaky pipe has since been fixed and the station’s storage tanks pressure tested. "There’s no reason to suspect further leakages," said Joe Paul of the municipality’s public works department.

However, remediation efforts are expected to take some time. Exactly how long is unclear.

"Some sites can take years to clean up," Dankevy said. "They haven’t told me how long it will take, but they will have to at some point."

Petro-Canada began remediation efforts on its own site and adjacent lands several months ago. According to a consultant hired by the municipality to advise them on the clean-up, Petro-Canada has enacted an aggressive remediation plan.

"We’re somewhat comforted by that," Paul said.

But even though the remediation efforts are underway, the plan is still being reviewed by the Ministry of Water, Air and Land Protection.

"The plan for cleaning up off-site has to be approved by the ministry," Dankevy said. "We’re reviewing it now but we have a backlog of cases. While we’re waiting for that to clear there’s no reason for us to stand in the way of them getting started."

The municipality first became aware of the contaminated ground early in 2000.

"(Petro-Canada) came to us for permission to drill exploratory holes in the road to look for leakage," Paul said. "We were concerned they suspected they had leakage off site."

Dankevy said the ministry originally got involved because the municipality was concerned about a drinking well in the Creekside area, near the chamber of commerce office. The well, which is only used periodically and will eventually be shut down by the municipality, was not found to be at risk.

A total of 60 holes were drilled on the Petro-Canada property and off-site, including the Whistler Housing Authority’s Beaver Flats property. The holes helped delineate the extent of the plume and the type of remediation work needed. According to Paul, the drilling report was sent to the then-Ministry of Environment, which signed off on the Beaver Flats site. Intrawest’s property and Whistler Creek itself were also found to be unaffected.

The municipality has no authority or bylaws that address this type of contamination problem – that rests with the Ministry of Water, Air and Land Protection – but the RMOW is acting as an interested party, in concert with Intrawest, the Lake Placid Lodge, the housing authority and the owners of the London Lane condos. Intrawest and the Lake Placid Lodge have each hired their own consultants, who are co-ordinating their efforts with the municipality’s consultant.

Paul said the interested parties want "a couple of more holes drilled on the Beaver Flats site and London Lane properties, just to get them ticked off the list, to feel comfortable. It’s to everyone’s advantage to put these two sites to rest."

The interested parties will be meeting with the ministry and Petro-Canada in the next few weeks.

While the municipality doesn’t have any authority over remediation efforts, it does have the ability to withhold approval of Petro-Canada’s redevelopment plans.

Intrawest’s Whistler Creek Comprehensive Development Strategy, which received final approval in January 2000, included a land exchange involving the municipality, Intrawest and Petro-Canada. The exchange, part of Intrawest’s redevelopment of Creekside and Petro-Canada’s plans for redevelopment of the service station, was supposed to take place as part of the first subdivision of the Creekside area.

"Then we found out about the problem," Paul said. "Immediately we severed Petro-Canada from the rest of the deal."

Part of the Creekside redevelopment includes Intrawest building a highway underpass at approximately the intersection of London Lane and Highway 99. Intrawest will then realign Whistler Creek to flow under the highway – directly through the area the plume currently sits.

"That’s a complicating factor," Dankevy admitted. "We have proposed Intrawest build a liner for the creek. It’s all part of the remediation plan."

The soil removed for the underpass will also have to be reviewed by the ministry.

Paul was unsure whether the remediation plan would delay Intrawest’s plans to realign the creek and build the underpass next summer.

The remediation efforts currently underway involve pumping vapour and liquid into the ground to collect free phase product in the groundwater and hydrocarbon particles in the soil. The liquid is then "vacuumed" out and the contaminated water treated. The second phase of remediation involves air sparging, where the vapours are sucked out of the ground.

The primary pollutants are believed to be benzene, ethylbenzene, toluene and xylenes, known as BETX.

"Preliminary indications are the product level is decreasing," Paul said of the vacuum enhanced multi-phase extraction process currently underway.

"It’s very important this gets cleaned up and there’s no property value loss."

At the end of the remediation efforts the Ministry of Water, Air and Lands Protection will require further testing before issuing a certificate of compliance.