Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966

Borough to consider new building code for fuel tanks


July 12, 2018

The borough will consider a building code addressing residential oil tanks and fuel lines. The assembly voted 4-2 Tuesday to instruct staff to draft the new code. The move came in reaction to an oil spill this past winter.

The assembly raised the issue of oil tank locations and fuel lines while discussing closing the file on an oil spill near Young Road. Up to 100 gallons of heating oil spilled in January when the fuel line from a heating oil tank to the furnace broke at Bart Henderson’s home.

The Department of Environmental Conservation was satisfied with the cleanup and wanted the case closed, borough manager Debra Schnabel said.

Schnabel said the spill was “caused by snow coming down off a roof, breaking the outflow-tube connection to the fuel tank.” She suggested writing borough code to address the issue.

“This is the third spill that I’m aware of that happened this way,” Schnabel said. “One of the responses we could have as a responsive community is to take a step to regulate the placement of fuel tanks near homes. ... It would help to reduce or eliminate the possibility that oil spills occur by the breaking of copper tubing when the snow falls off and breaks it from the tank.”

The Chilkat Valley News reported on Henderson’s oil spill in January. The suspected cause, according to Alaska Department of Conservation’s Southeast Unit Supervisor David Pikul, was frost heave that raised the ground, not snow falling from a roof.

Schnabel said Wednesday that she was wrong at Tuesday’s assembly meeting about the cause of Henderson’s spill, but that oil spills caused by snow falling from roofs “probably happens at least twice or three times a year.” Schnabel said falling snow caused a fuel-line break in 2014 at Saint James Place, a trailer park in Haines that she owns.

The manager said people in the community have been sensitive in talking about building codes in the past, but that many in the community would support this single provision. “We don’t have to start by recreating the whole globe, we could start with one thing that we think is important and it doesn’t have to go anywhere after that.”

Assembly member Tom Morphet opposed the proposed code. “A small public education campaign” could achieve the same thing as a building code, he said. “Maybe for $100 we could give flyers to companies and tell them to distribute them to customers.”

Assembly members Brenda Josephson and Tresham Gregg both said they support an education campaign and oppose new building code.

“It would be a logistical nightmare,” Gregg said.

The assembly ended the conversation during the manager’s report with a unanimous vote to close the DEC file on the spill.

At the end of the meeting during assembly comments, member Sean Maidy brought up the building code issue again and motioned to direct the manager to draft an ordinance “regarding oil storage location and possibly a cover.” The motion passed 4-2, with Morphet and Josephson opposed.

“The reason I want to have her start working on this is not because I’m all for starting an entire book of building code,” Maidy said, “but for us to neglect something like this happening so many times and do nothing about it is a little above education.”

Morphet and Josephson restated their opposition to new building code and said there was no incentive for homeowners not to address protecting their fuel lines. “When you have an oil spill you have to deal with the DEC. It’s not something anyone wants,” Josephson said.

Maidy said education isn’t enough. “If we don’t make anything enforceable, they’ll continue to do the path of least resistance because they are human beings.”

Assembly member Heather Lende suggested the code only address new oil tanks, not existing homes.

Schnabel said Wednesday she would draft code to only address new construction.

The borough currently doesn’t have a comprehensive building code in law. “We have very little building code, only really pertaining to foundations,” said borough clerk Alekka Fullerton. The borough also imposes limitations on building height and density in Title 18 on Land Use/Development.

Other Southeast municipalities of similar sizes, Petersburg and Wrangell, have sparse building codes. Petersburg’s building code includes safety standards such as minimum roof snow-bearing standards, retention of building plans, and plumbing regulations. Wrangell’s codes includes things such as insulation inspection requirements and foundations for stud-bearing walls.


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