The B.C. Environment Ministry says there is no environmental emergency at a vegetable oil-soaked Collettville residence the City of Merritt discovered last week.
City of Merritt bylaw services officer Bob Davis says that he found "hundreds to 1,000-plus" litres of mostly cooking oil at a home in Collettville while looking into an unrelated smoke issue on March 30.
"I accidentally stumbled on it," he says.
Davis says he had driven past the property many times without noticing anything unusual. However, once he examined it more closely, the massive amount of oil present at the site became apparent.
"I don't want to call it anything it's not, but I've never seen anything like it."
Davis says he found containers of varying sizes filled with oil, including at least one with a capacity of 250 litres. He adds that oil has soaked the soil where it was stored and also seeped into nearby public property.
"We're likely well over a thousand litres in material."
Davis compares the consistency of the ground where oil has leaked in with that of toothpaste.
"The stuff has been sitting there for probably years."
According to Dennis Redford, a senior environmental emergencies officer at the Environment Ministry, there does not appear to be a pressing need to deal with the site.
"There didn't seem to be an urgency from looking at the pictures," he adds.
"It's not an environmental emergency."
Merritt Fire Rescue Department Chief Dave Tomkinson toured the property with Davis later that day. Davis says that Tomkinson determined that the bulk of the oil present was vegetable oil.
"What we are sure of, for the most part, is that the oil is used cooking oil."
Davis notes that he also found a smaller amount of a substance that was likely motor oil.
He says the homeowner told him that he had collected the oil to turn into biodiesel, a type of "green" fuel for use in diesel engines.
The bylaw officer visited the site with public works supervisor Darrell Finnigan and health officials on April 2. They found that the oil contamination does not pose any immediate risk to the surrounding area or tap water.
Now, however, the City of Merritt must decide how to clean up the mess.
"My order is to not touch this…until Ministry of Environment gets back to me and tells me how to deal with it," explains Davis.
He says that he contacted the ministry on March 30 but has received no response and makes his frustration clear.
"They haven't bothered to return my email…nor have they bothered to phone me.
"If the guy's going to brush me off, there are all kinds of polite ways to do that."
Davis says that in the meantime, City of Merritt chief administrative officer Matt Noble has told him to treat the site as an unsightly property. An old bus and several other vehicles litter the home's yard.
While Davis awaits word from the Environment Ministry, the homeowner is "slowly but surely" removing the oil to an unknown destination, one that may or may not be appropriate for disposal, he says.
"Where is it being moved to?"
Redford says the ministry may send a staff member to check the area next week.
"It's not that I don't have the ability. It's that I don't have the expertise."
Davis has been able to resolve at least one issue at the property. He has ordered the smoking outdoor wood burner that prompted his discovery of the oil be shut down and dismantled.
Davis says the burner is unrelated to the oil, contrary to his initial suspicions.