|Fuel oil in the crawlspace April 12, 2108.|
We have the best neighbors in the world. I called Skip about midnight, which is when we discovered the spill, and he came over right away with a flashlight. Skip is a frank person, so when he said that the situation was bad, we knew that it really was. We also called our friend, Janice, who works on oil stoves like the one we have. Even though it was 1:00AM, she answered the phone and confirmed that the situation was, indeed dire. Skip advised us to abandon the house, so we did.
We spent that first night out in Stella, the loyal camper that came up the Alaska Highway with us. It was cold, and all of us--Borys and Sunny and Kayt and me--were upset and miserably cold. At first light, I called the insurance company. Couldn't reach an adjuster, but left a message. Then I called the vet to see if we could board Borys and Sunny for a couple of days. Called the adjuster again, but no message for me yet. So I took Borys and Sunny to the vet. It would be nearly three days before we would be together as a family again.
Got back home, and Janice had already arrived and was working with Kayt to try to contain the spill. They worked all morning, breathing noxious air, and crawling on their hands and knees in the crawlspace which is literally just that. Kayt took some photographs of the oil, watching in horror as the shapes on the concrete block foundation transformed and reset themselves. I stayed on the phone all morning: insurance company again, then an oil response company, then the insurance company again. Janice said that we would be required to report the spill to the state, so I did. I finally got a call back from the insurance company. And somehow--because I have lots of social capital and also because I had to get quite assertive--I managed to get the insurance company's third party adjuster, two oil spill first responders, and the state guy all out at the land at the same time. At the time, these guys felt like heroes to us.
|Some of the heroes looking down at the crawl space.|
The next day, nothing happened, so we stayed another night in the hotel. We both went to work, feeling shellshocked and with our noses still stinging from the smell.
The third day we moved out of the hotel into the little cabin in Ester. I rescued the dog and cat from the vet. We had put the cabin on the market several months beforehand, and we had a good offer on it that we had accepted. So we thought that this would be only temporary. But I couldn't find alternative rental housing in Fairbanks. We were told that we would be displaced up to three months, but it started looking like it would be six months or more. Friends shared horror stories of similar circumstances. We were miserable, but we were together.
Then, the people who planned to buy the cabin offered to rent it to us. Angels, they both are.
Then, the insurance guy said that the company would not pay for the mitigation of the spill on the land outside of the cabin. The first bid for that work came in at $89K. The insurance guy and I had words.
Then, I met with a tax accountant who told me that thanks to the Republican-led Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of December, 2017, individuals are no longer able to deduct personal casualty losses off their federal taxes.
Then, I got another bid for the outside mitigation that came in at $78K.
Then, I learned about all kinds of stuff that I never knew before: diesel will flow towards warmth, which is why it flowed into the crawl space instead of staying on top of the snow. Diesel will continue to sink into the ground for years and years. Diesel fumes will permeate anything soft, e.g. bedding, furniture, clothes, carpet. Diesel infected soil can be land-farmed, or spread out at a one feet level and rototilled every year so that it will volitalize. Diesel infected soil can be piled up on a liner and turned every year. Diesel infected soil can be seeded with a particular Alaska grass and willows and microbes will break it down. Diesel plumes travel through soil, sinking ever further unless they are removed. State law requires remediation, but the insurance company refuses to pay. The state will put a lien on our home if we do not comply. We do not have the funds to pay, and our credit union will not loan money on contaminated properties. We are still trying to figure this out. Friends and acquaintances have been great to us.
It's been six and a half weeks. We like living in Ester, and after an initial period of learning how to navigate the cabin, both Borys and Sunny have settled in well. It takes us only 15 minutes to get to work, which is a pleasant change. I hang out at the Eagle every night and watch TV with the guys and gals there. Kayt goes out to the cabin a couple of times a week to get the mail, retrieve needed items, and to meet with contractors. I talk to the insurance adjuster primarily by email. I think he's a real jerk and that he is so burned out that he no longer has any empathy at all. I am sure he thinks I'm just being difficult and expecting more customer service than is reasonable. After a particularly nasty exchange, he and I have reached some kind of compromise. He tries not to be a patronizing jerk, and I try not to be a bitchy customer. I do feel, though, that I have more of the moral high ground than he does. After all, I'm the one who has paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in insurance over nearly forty years and whose house is now a disaster.
So we live day by day. Somehow, both Kayt and I got our spring grades in on time, even though we both were feeling traumatized at the time. That feeling is disappearing little by little each day. Kayt plays music three times a week, goes to yoga and tai chi classes at the local Senior Center, and teaches a SOC 101X section online. I'm writing another research article on sexism as an ideology, work on Wikipedia for the Wikipedia Fellows Pilot Project, and teach two online classes. Next week, I will start work on my NSF grant on working class men's friendship patterns.
Earlier this week, I met yet another contractor out at the land. He is a friend and former student. He was so kind and so empathetic. I started crying and could not stop. Maybe the insurance adjuster uses a non-empathetic and patronizing interaction style with me so that I would not become emotional like that. I can imagine that being an insurance adjuster, and dealing with traumatized people would not be a fun job.