EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

July 5, 2013

Salem family can live on oil-contaminated land

Problems at oil-contaminated site started in 2007

By Doug Ireland

---- — SALEM — For six years, the Demers family has dealt with problems from an oil spill that left their Martin Avenue home unlivable.

Today, a contractor will begin demolishing the oil-contaminated basement flooded by more than 230 gallons of heating fuel in February 2007, according to Michael Demers.

He and his mother, Suzanne Demers, were forced to move into a mobile home set up on their front lawn four years ago because the house reeked of oil.

But town officials became inpatient with the family’s failure to correct the problems and remove the 70-foot mobile home. They faced up to $275 a day in fines after the family’s fifth extension expired in March. Town regulations only allowed the mobile home to remain for up to 90 days.

When the Zoning Board of Adjustment granted the Demerses their sixth extension Tuesday night, it came with conditions.

Instead of giving the family the nine-month extension they requested, the board ruled unanimously that they must report the progress being made each month.

“I want to see — on a 30-day basis — how much work is being done,” Chairman Gary Azarian said.

That was fine with Michael Demers, who said they just need until the end of the year to pour a new concrete foundation, install a vapor barrier, and do the other work needed to live in their home again. The basement is also covered with mold, according to town health officer Brian Lockard.

“We are very happy with the decision,” Michael Demers said. “We just want to get this demolition started.”

The Demerses claimed an employee from Haffner’s fuel company overfilled their tank. A jury cleared the Lawrence company of negligence following a weeklong civil trial in 2011. Haffner’s claimed the home had a faulty tank and piping.

Michael Demers said the legal battle exhausted his 69-year-old mother’s assets and they are having a tough time coming up with the thousands of dollars needed to fund the work. Several contractors are donating labor and materials for the project, he said.

When the board first heard the latest extension request a month ago, the proposed variance was tabled until the Demerses could provide more information on when they expected the project to be completed.

Board members were happy with the timeline Michael Demers provided Tuesday night.

“These are the things we have been looking for all along,” vice chairman Steven Diantgikis said. “I would like to see this timeline followed through.”

Azarian was also satisfied with the timeline. He has said the board has been extremely patient with the family in dealing with their numerous requests for extensions.

Before receiving approval to move the mobile home next to their house, the Demerses lived in a hotel for 28 months.

In 2008, the property was assessed at more than $330,000, but has since dropped to $191,300, according to Vision Appraisal Services. The house is assessed at just $55,600.

Michael Demers said the latest extension will give them the time they need.

“We are just trying to get it livable,” he said. “We would like to finally be home for Christmas after six years of this.”