Wednesday, May 23, 2018
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Gas leaks make home inhospitable

“I still call this my Mom's house,” Carla Cammarn says, voice rising above the traffic din that whooshes up from the canyon-slice of I-475 below.

“I lived here my whole life, until I got married and moved out. And when my mother passed away, .. I moved back”

This tiny, tidy house is wedged along a right-of-way that keeps the interstate at a distance. In the side yard, six white plastic pipes poke up from the ground. Carla eyes them warily.

“They call them `wells' or something, and I think they use them to test what's in the ground. It's such a mess around here,” she says, gesturing toward the house where she now lives alone.

The sky this day is as gray as the fresh vinyl siding of this Bellevue Road house. Before the nation was sliced-and-diced by the interstate system, this segment of Bellevue off Sylvania connected with the stretch that runs off Monroe, now far across the highway. Here, crews are putting up a sound barrier - forbiddingly ugly concrete panels that ease the sense of hearing by assaulting the sense of sight.

In September, work crews struck pipelines on two consecutive days: residents evacuated, a freeway closed for nearly eight hours. Returning from work, Carla saw “trucks, emergency stuff, the hazmat people - everything was right there. I had to park like eight houses away, and I started walking, and they said, `You can't go down there.' I said, `But, that's my house.' And they said, `Oh, you better come with us.'”

It made her nervous when they checked the basement for contamination from the punctured gasoline line just beyond her property. She hasn't spent a night there since. Instead, it's Day 72 of hotel life, paid by BP.

She fears undiscovered gasoline is pooled underground. And she couldn't bear the unrelenting generator noise caused by machinery brought in to suck up spilled fuel.

“The people from the contractor, and even one of the people from BP, they all said, `We didn't say this, but you need a lawyer.' That made me think something's wrong.”

Her lawyer, Norman Abood, says Carla “is caught in the crossfire between the contractor [National Engineering & Constructing, Inc.] and BP. I have requested, but they've not provided us, with facts to determine who's at fault .... Were the lines properly marked? Did the contractor dig improperly?”

I couldn't reach the contractors, but BP district manager Greg DeBrock predicts the the refinery and contractor will soon dance a legal tango to apportion blame. Until then, he says, BP pays for Carla's hotel. But Mr. Abood says no one can tell him when remediation will end, so he's asking BP to buy his client's house and let her get on with life.

“My house doesn't feel like my house anymore,” Carla says. “I don't want to sell, but I don't want to keep it in the situation it's in now.”

Yet Mr. DeBrock says soil borings show no contamination, and noisy generators stopped last week. So is Carla Cammarn's request unreasonable?

“If I say yes, then I'll seem maybe unsympathetic. But in my mind, yes, there isn't a good reason [for her not to be back home now]. Considering all the other noise around there, and if she truly prefers to be in her home - I know I'd be in my home. But I really don't want to characterize her as unreasonable.”

Roberta de Boer's column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays,

and Saturdays. Email her at or call 1-419-724-6086.

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