Maeser Neighborhood Citizen Responses to Provo City Claims about Christensen Oil Expansion

Proposed expansion at Christensen Oil, per Provo City, June 16, 2020. Includes 14 new oil storage tanks, 2 new fuel storage tanks, and 2 warehouses for storing lubrication oil. Our houses are hidden behind the white text blocks!

Provo City staff are making a number of claims about the M1 zoning code amendment (passed June 16) and the Christensen Oil Development Agreement (in draft form as of Aug 30, 2020) that we challenge the accuracy of. They include:

Claim 1: “This is not an expansion”

Our response — yes, it is an expansion. Staff are saying that they will replace the outdoor storage of oil in plastic barrels with permanent tank storage and new indoor barrel storage. Yet the current outdoor oil storage is about 40,000 gallons, and the new tank storage will be
– 112,000 gallons of oil tanks (14 tanks at 8000 gallons each)
– 60,000 gallons of gasoline or diesel fuel storage (2 tanks at 30,000 gallons each)
– 389,000 additional gallons of oil in plastic barrels in the existing North Warehouse
– 180,000 gallons of oil in plastic barrels in a new East Warehouse.
Total: 681,000 gallons of additional oil storage capacity, and 60,000 gallons of fuel capacity.

The development agreement, as shared with city council on the June 16, 2020 vote, has Christensen Oil remove 40,000 gallons of oil storage, but replace it with 681,000 gallons of oil storage and 60,000 gallons of fuel storage.

We think this is AN EXPANSION!

Image above is from Provo City proposed Development Agreement, June 16, 2020. Showing 14 new oil tanks, 2 new fuel tanks, 1 new warehouse, and 1 warehouse converted to oil storage.

Claim 2: Christensen Oil is in zoning compliance with Provo City.

Our response — Christensen Oil signed a development agreement with Provo City in 1990. The agreement rezoned residential land owned by Christensen to “Light Manufacturing,” which was opposed by the neighbors. As part of the compromise with the neighbors, Christensen covenanted that they would never store flammable or combustible liquids on the rezoned land.

As part of the covenant, Christensen agreed to pay the legal costs of the city’s attorneys if Christensen was ever found to be in violation.

Today, they have six oil storage tanks of 12,000 gallons each on the land, that have been there for 20 years now. and 11,000 gallons of oil currently stored in the North Warehouse. And the current development agreement allows conversion of the North Warehouse to store up to 389,000 additional gallons of lubricating oil.

The Maeser Neighborhood, in 1990, supported the rezoning agreement in good faith that Provo City and Christensen Oil would uphold the agreement.

Today, there has been a violation of it for many years, and Provo City is not interested in upholding this past agreement.

Claim 3: There are no fire code violations at Christensen Oil

This is made in writing by Fire Marshal Lynn Schofield at the City Council presentation on June 16, 2020.

Our response — In the fine print of his official responses to neighbors, he states “there are no fire code violations NOTED at Christensen Oil.

In July, 2019, the Maeser Neighborhood submitted 35 pages of complaints, which included at least 75 individual fire code violations. Cited, with photos, from the 2018 International Fire Code, as adopted by the State of Utah.

The Fire Marshal has edged around this claim. Sometimes he has stated that because the business was founded in 1935, that he only needs to enforce the 1935 fire code. Which may be true in specific instances, but most of the Fire Code is not grandfathered — “Operations, Maintenance and Administration” are dictated by the current fire code, not historic fire codes. See our post here

Clearly, there are many current fire code violations, including:
* tanker trucks parked too close to a property line
* facility not secure on weekends and evenings
* combustible liquids stored too close to property lines
* oil storage tanks not maintained in accordance to the code in existence at the time they were built
* wooden pallets stored too close to other materials link
* lubricating oil permanently stored in a parked tanker trailer link July 2019, oil stored in tanker trailer)
* blocked fire lanes (link, September 2019, fire lanes blocked)
* buildings not built to Building Code standards (link July 2019 “tent” and “shack”
* combustible liquids illegally stored next to buildings.

All of these code violations might seem minor in isolation. But all added up mean that a small fire could become very big, very fast. And the entire Christensen facility is located next to homes where people live and sleep, and only 1/2 mile from downtown Provo.

Claim 4: The Fire Chief can use his own judgement to bypass the Fire Code

Our response — yes, there is a process for this, but it must be certified by an engineer, and recorded at the city.

The Fire Code states that it must be followed with precision. And the only way for an exemption is to go through a lengthy process, certified by engineers, that guarantees the public an equivalent level of safety as provided by the code itself.

This is found on Page 3 of the Fire Code, as “Modifications”

For instance, Chief Jim Miguel has assured us that even though the Fire Code states that tanker trucks must be parked 25 feet from the property line, he can allow just 15 feet. See 5706.6.2.3-1

Claim 5: The fire department can not enforce the fire code to the extent that a business is forced to close, or even downsize, as then the city would get sued and lose.

Our response — There is nothing in the Fire Code that states that there are automatic waivers for a profitable business. The Fire Code simply states that the Fire Code exists for public safety, and all businesses are required to abide by it.

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