After months of wrangling among citizens, oil companies and the Fairfax City Council, a compromise has been reached on a safety ordinance for the Fairfax Tank Farm.
Revisions in tank farm safety regulations adopted last week by the council have won the backing of civic leaders living near the petroleum storage depot on Pickett Road and some of the oil companies using the tank farm. At least one oil company may still have problems with the wording in the ordinance, but Acting City Manager Robert Norris said the issue appears to be settled.
The council last week adopted amendments to an ordinance requiring complex alarms on tanks containing flammable liquids. The revisions shift responsibility for accidents, such as gasoline spills, to the tank operators instead of the oil company owners. They also call for criminal penalties for any violation of the ordinance "which endangers or results in the loss of life, limb or property."
The original ordinance prescribed penalties for "any intentional violation" of the code.
The changes were adopted by the council in a 5 to 1 vote, with Councilman Glenn White dissenting.
"The addition of these words substantially weakens this ordinance," White said. "It is the purpose of this ordinance to protect people before we result in the loss of life, limb or property."
White said he also believes the new language makes the ordinance too complicated and "opens the door to more litigation than we want to mess around with."
Steve Elder, president of the hommeowners association in the Comstock town house development, which borders the tank farm, said his group is satisfied with the changes. The revised regulations are stricter than the original ordinance, adopted by the council in September, about suspending hazardous-use permits for oil companies violating the rules, he said.
Elder said the citizens also are pleased with the provision penalizing tank operators for accidents that "endanger" property or lives as well as those that result in the loss of life or property.
Rodney Buckles, an attorney for Cities Service Co., one of four oil companies using the tank farm, said Cities Service is satisfied with the changes and the company has no plans to legally challenge it. The oil companies' threats to sue the city over the legality of the original ordinance were what led to a renegotiation of the ordinance by the city staff and eventual revision by the City Council.
"As we understand the intent of what they passed, it is quite an improvement over what had been passed the first time," Buckles said.
Robert Valerie, terminal manager for Amoco, said there still may be problems, however, even though the companies won several points in the debate because of technical language.
"Truthfully, I am not pleased with it," he said. Valerie and other oil company spokesmen said they still are sorting through the changes approved by the council before deciding whether to ask for more revisions or to take legal action challenging the ordinance.