The disaster that may be corroding in your cellar

Photo (cc) 2012 by limecools

One afternoon more than 25 years ago I was talking with the late Boston Globe columnist David Nyhan. I mentioned to him that we were buying a three-family house in Topsfield as a rental property. He warned me about new state septic-system regulations. I didn’t pay much attention.

I should have. Several years later, after a heavy rainstorm, the septic system failed, and we had to replace it. As I recall, it cost us $50,000. We sold the house and vowed to stay out of the rental market from that point on.

I thought about that this morning when I read the horrifying story of Emmaline and Brian Proctor, whose new home in Wareham became a financial disaster when their oil tank leaked. According to the Globe’s Sean Murphy, state-mandated cleanup will cost them more than $185,000, and their homeowners insurance doesn’t cover it. Murphy writes:

Under strictly enforced state environmental laws, the Proctors are now responsible for removing contamination caused by the spill. That means their contractor must excavate at least 10 feet under the house to test the soil and remove contaminated portions. And to do that, the contractor must temporarily lift the house off its foundation for access.

Yow! This could happen to any of us with oil heat. The oil tank in our current house started leaking within a week or two of our moving in seven years ago. There was little spillage, fortunately, and I remember being peeved that we had to spend $700 on a new tank. Now I realize it could have been much, much worse.

As Murphy writes, coverage for such disasters should be mandatory. And something should be done to help unsuspecting homeowners like the Proctors, who face financial disaster for a problem that was not of their making.

Looking back at the Hurricane of 1938

My grandfather Elmer Shaw in Onset. Click on image for more photos.

In late September 1938, an enormously destructive storm hit most of the northeastern United States. The Hurricane of 1938 resulted in 564 deaths and more than 1,700 injuries.

The hurricane has also been a matter of family legend. The Shaws, my mother’s side of the family, owned a cottage on the water — “Shawnee” — along East Boulevard in Onset, part of Wareham. I spent many happy summer days there in the 1960s and early ’70s. And I was always told that my grandfather Elmer Shaw had done such a good job of building the cottage that it was the only one along East Boulevard to survive the hurricane.

Here’s how the Boston Globe of Sept. 22 described the impact of the hurricane on Wareham:

Without lights and almost completely inundated in many sections, the town remained on the verge of isolation. No trains arrived and it was utterly impossible to enter the town through the main street.

All stores in the business district were completely under water. The warehouse of the Tremont Nail Company was 10 feet under water.

I seem to recall family members saying that the hurricane came with no warning. If that’s the case, then perhaps they weren’t paying attention. Though the cable-news saturation of 2011 was unimaginable back then, the Globe ran several stories as the storm drew closer, among them “Hurricane Moving Toward the Bahamas” (Sept. 19) and “Hurricane May Spare Florida” (Sept. 20).

Still, if the Globe’s online archives are complete, then the next time the word “hurricane” popped up was on Sept. 22, after the storm had swept through. But people did listen to the radio in the 1930s, and it’s hard to imagine that storm updates weren’t part of news reports.

Recently my cousin Sue discovered a trove of family pictures, including some of Onset and of the Hurricane of 1938. I thought you might enjoy having a look.