Monday, July 23, 2007
Help Me Howard: Kerosene Tank
It's an incredible dilemma: you have a problem in your yard, but, if you report it to the government, as you should do, they can force you to spend thousands of dollars to correct it. It's a problem one South Florida woman has, so she called Help me Howard with Patrick Fraser.
WSVN -- This North Miami neighborhood is like hundreds in South Florida, a good place filled with good people.
Teresa Branch: "Very nice, very quiet, the neighbors are very nice."
Most of the houses were built in the late 50s, back when life was quieter, back when rules and regulations were much simpler.
Teresa Branch: "It's very unfortunate that a problem like that existed, that something that happened 40 years ago is haunting me right now."
Teresa's nightmare started when she noticed a patch of grass in her yard had turned brown.
Teresa Branch: "And one day the lawn man told me that he smelled some fumes where the grass was turning brown."
Turns out the smell came from a Kerosene tank that was buried in the yards of many homes in the late 50s to run the heaters.
Teresa Branch: "Then I said, 'I just can't believe a tank is underneath the house.'"
Teresa has lived here for 14 years. An honest person who cares about her neighbors and the environment, she could have kept quiet, but she reported it.
Teresa Branch: "And when DERM came out, they said that it was a violation, an environment violation, and that it had to be removed."
DERM is Miami-Dade's Department of Environmental Resource Management. They gave Teresa a list of companies to call to remove the tank and dirt. The estimates started coming in.
Teresa Branch: "I was expecting maybe a couple of thousand dollars, but when I saw $8,000 and the TBD, to be determined, I could just not believe it. I am still just kind of floored by it."
To make sure there were no more leaks, she hired a company to come drain the tank. They did and discovered the leak was coming from an old pipe used for ventilation.
Teresa Branch: "And the pipe is the only thing that really needs to be fixed."
That would be cheap to do, and, in other Florida counties, you are allowed to fill the empty tank with sand to eliminate the problem, saving Teresa over $8,000 and help her neighbors who also have Kerosene tanks.
Teresa Branch: "If I am allowed to fill the tank up with sand that would be much better because there are neighbors who still have their tanks that are sitting there in their yards."
But DERM told her "no," that not only did she have to remove the empty tank, she had to remove the dirt surrounding it. Not the kind of response Teresa expected from the county after she was so honest in reporting the problem.
Teresa Branch: "I never knew that by my calling I would be so deep into having to pull up $8,000 right now."
Teresa of course does not have the $8,000 laying around and since the Kerosene has been removed, she thinks Miami-Dade county is being unfair in forcing her to remove an empty tank legally. It's a tough one, Howard.
Howard Finkelstein: "Government agencies like DERM have the power, the authority and the requirements to follow regulations, but, at the same time, the law dose also allow them to exercise discretion, so that the taxpayer is helped and not hammered."
We then read DERM's own regulations that say, "unmentioned underground storage facilities shall be removed or abandoned." When I contacted DERM they told me the fact there was an overflow triggers the need for removal, that Teresa could leave the tank but would have to install monitoring wells, which would cost more than removing it.
They also said they would work with Teresa to try to help her. When I mentioned that forcing her to spend thousands would probably convince the other people in Miami-Dade to keep quiet if their old tanks leaked, I was told, "We have to follow the regulations." DERM then suggested the people with tanks drain them before they start leaking. Sadly, if Teresa doesn't move, her situation could get worse.
Howard Finkelstein: "DERM can start fining Teresa for every day she is not in compliance. After it reaches tens of thousands of dollars they cannot throw her out of the house, but they can place a lien on it, so that when she or her heirs sell it, the county gets their money first."
It's a stunning problem for Teresa, now faced with a nightmare she never imagined.
Teresa Branch: "8,000 plus, which was really a disappointment for me. I don't want to harm myself or my daughter or anyone in the neighborhood because I know it is an environmental issue, but I think the price tag is just a little outlandish."
Patrick Fraser: Now DERM has told Teresa again will try to work with her, but, so far, they have not offered any cheaper options, and, if they can't find one, Teresa says she will consider borrowing the money from her retirement account. It's a dangerous thing to do, but Teresa may be forced into it.
A stinking mess buried you? Don't tank it. Contact us for help. We'll dig around and try to uncover a solution if one is possible.
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