Oil leak persists at Masset school

  • Dec. 1, 2005 5:00 p.m.

An underground oil leak discovered two years ago at Tahayghen elementary continues to cause problems for the school district, maintenance supervisor Bill Wiggins told school trustees when they met last week in Skidegate (Nov. 22).
Mr. Wiggins said an oil tank and 12 loads of soil were removed from the site a year and a half ago, and the district has been monitoring oil levels since then.
“It appears now the oil has moved off the school district property,” he said, adding that letters have been sent to six homeowners warning them that oil may be migrating to their properties. The amount of oil is minute, he said, but above Ministry of Environment regulations.
The school district has drilled 22 holes and continues to monitor water levels and oil contamination in the area of the leak. Mr. Wiggins said the project is demanding “a fair bit of time.”
It’s also costing money, with expenses now close to $100,000, he said. Further expenses will probably be covered by the School Protection Program, he said, a kind of insurance program for schools.
Consultant Pacific Environmental has been advising the district on how to deal with the leak so far, and is now preparing a proposal for cleaning it up, Mr. Wiggins said.
Meanwhile, the district is also waiting for money from the provincial government to fix potential water leaks at Sk’aadgaa Naay elementary in Skidegate. Schools all over the province have similar problems, and the government has set up a “building envelope program” to pay for repairs.
However, Mr. Wiggins said the government is waiting to finish assessments at all schools before handing out money for repairs. The repairs at Sk’aadgaa Naay have been estimated at $132,000, he said. The district has already spent some of that to plug a leak and clean up mold and rot in the school’s photocopy room caused by water coming in.
In other school board news:
o Secretary-treasurer Andrea deBucy said she has finally sorted out a tussle between the provincial government and the two band councils, which both wanted money the school district saved during the teachers’ strike. The Ministry of Education wanted the entire $230,000 in wages and benefits saved, while the two band councils – which contribute a large portion of the school district budget – wanted their share of the savings returned.
Ms deBucy said the ministry eventually agreed to divide the savings, so the district will be returning $179,000 to the two band councils and $51,000 to the ministry.
o Ms deBucy was still in shock from a Ministry of Education directive which wanted her to establish the exact latitude and longitude of the home of every student in the district.
“You cannot imagine how much work this would be,” she told trustees.
The task was especially discouraging because it was not going to result in more money for the district, she said, and could in fact be used to reduce transportation funding, already frozen for the next two years.
The request came because the ministry is revising its funding formula for student transportation, Ms deBucy explained. Previously, it was based on the total number of kilometres driven by school buses; now it will be based on the sum of the distance of each student from his or her school.
Ms deBucy said she is supplying the ministry with the latitude and longitude of each bus stop in the district, and the number of students at each stop, which should give roughly the same information with less work.
The district continues to spend about $50,000 more on transportation every year than it receives for this purpose from the Ministry of Education, she added. And although the price of fuel has skyrocketed, transportation funding remains frozen.
o It was the final meeting for trustees Maggie Bell Brown, Margaret Edgars, Gail Henry, Shirley Hawse and Andreas Uttendorfer. Ms Henry had to leave early to catch the barge to Sandspit, but the other trustees made emotional farewells.
“The last six years as a trustee has been a highlight of my life,” Ms Bell Brown said. “It has been really great working with all of you.”
Ms Edgars, who didn’t run in the election because of health issues, said she had very much enjoyed being on the board, and wished she could continue.
Ms Hawse said she didn’t want to say too much or she might start crying, but did wish success to new trustee Christine Martynuik, who also attended the meeting.
Mr. Uttendorfer, the chair, waited for the end of the meeting to make a lengthy speech, during which he summed up the highlights of his nine years on the board, thanked the current trustees, teachers, students and the public, and praised the district’s current administrators as “outstanding.”
The trustee variation process, which reduced the number of trustees in the district to five from seven, was not easy but was a historically significant decision handing more power to the Haida communities, he said.
“I am confident the new board is going to make that work,” he said. As for the future – “the challenges are not going to go away. They are going to multiply,” he told the trustees who will remain on the board. “You’ll have to be extremely smart. You’ll have to be cunning.”
The next school board meeting is scheduled for Dec. 13 at the high school in Queen Charlotte, at which point the new trustees will be sworn in.