Provo neighborhood clashes with oil company over expansion

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Leer en español: Disputa entre vecindario de Provo y compañía petrolera sobre expansión

Christensen Oil Company stores gasoline and oil in large tanks and silos on 200 East. (Whitney Bigelow)

Residents of Provo’s Maeser neighborhood are protesting a neighboring oil company’s expansion plans in an attempt to reverse the city’s decision to allow an additional 110,000 gallons of oil and gasoline storage tanks next to their homes.

Provo City approved an M1 zoning code amendment on June 16 that will allow Christensen Oil Company to add 14 more oil tanks and two new gasoline tanks, along with over 500,000 gallons of plastic barrel storage in warehouses on the property.

“They’re storing gasoline next to people’s houses,” said Ted Buehler, one of the organizers of the Maeser Neighbors for Safety coalition. “Every single house was built before the oil company existed.”

Christensen Oil plans to add 110,000 gallons of oil storage to their property. (Whitney Bigelow)

Concerned residents started a blog called “Keep Provo Safe” to list their grievances with Christensen Oil. Beyond the decision to expand, which has been hotly disputed, other complaints include alleged fire code violations and improper storage of hazardous materials.

In a recent press release, the Maeser Neighbors for Safety group called on Mayor Michelle Kaufusi to stop the expansion and “ensure that the existing facility meets current code and industry best practices.” The group’s petition has over 120 signatures from neighborhood residents.

Carolina Allen is a member of Maeser Neighbors for Safety who previously rented the house directly behind the 200 East Christensen Oil location.

“It’s kind of like, they do what they want and they ask permission later,” Carolina said. For example, Christensen Oil signed an agreement with Provo City in 1990 that rezoned Christensen’s residential land into “Light Manufacturing,” on the condition that they would never store flammable liquids on the premises — a promise that has not been kept.

“In the summer, the smell would come through the windows,” Carolina said. “I had little kids. I would look out from my backyard and see oil silos, and during the time that I was there, more went up. It lowers our property value.”

A home neighbors Christensen Oil Company on 200 East. Oil tanks are located less than 4 feet from some backyards, and some silos are within 150 feet of homes. (Whitney Bigelow)

While Allen thinks Provo City has tried their best to accommodate both sides, she said she still feels that the neighborhood has been sidelined.

Before pressure from the Maeser neighborhood, she explained, there weren’t any sprinkler systems in the Christensen warehouse in case of a fire. The gate to the property, which should be a secured location, Allen added, has been left open on many occasions during which any number of people could enter and start a fire.

An oil tanker parked within the gates of Christensen Oil Company. (Whitney Bigelow)

The Maeser Neighbors for Safety coalition believes without the pressure it puts on the city, nothing would have changed at all. The group members are grateful for the city’s past efforts to resolve the issues, such as limiting the amount of neighborhood traffic from Christensen Oil trucks, but they are demanding that these efforts be continued.

“We understand (Todd Christensen) has a business, but residential lives trump the business,” Allen said. “We know you’re here, we know you’ve been here a long time, but you can’t just disregard us. We’re here to stay, we care about our neighborhood and we’re going to hold you to the highest standard because you’re right smack-dab in the middle of (it).”

Christensen Oil declined to comment for the story.

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