Great Happening:

Tanking blight

Old fuel tanks removed from Austinburg Township corner.

The Ashtabula County Port Authority, working with the county’s Land Bank and economic/community development professionals, is tapping into a new grant program aimed at remediating abandoned gas station brownfields.

Sean Ratican, executive director of the Ashtabula County Port Authority, says the Ohio Developmental Services Agency’s (ODSA) Abandoned Gas Station Fund was tapped by the Authority for a grant of nearly $100,000 to remove four underground tanks from a former gas station property at routes 45 and 307 in Austinburg Township. The tanks were removed last month (photo above).

The Port Authority acquired the property through the county’s Land Bank. Ratican worked with Land Bank Executive Director Melissa Harvey and County Treasurer Dawn Cragon to clear the title of tax obligations so it could be transferred to the Port Authority.

Ratican says that when the Authority works on a brownfields grant, it does so with an end user in mind. However, in this case, an atypical path was taken while money for remediation is available.

While it was unchartered territory for the Authority’s Board of Directors and the state, Ratican and his team forged ahead with the project because it is a good fit for the group’s economic-development focus.

“My board played a huge role in this,” Ratican says. “This is a new program for everyone, and they went into it with an open mind. … There are not a lot of entities that can do this type of work, and this is exactly what the Port Authority was created for. We see these old gas stations as having the potential to become micro-incubators.”
That’s a sentiment shared by the City of Geneva, where its Zoning Administrator and Community Development Professional, Amanda B. White, has worked tirelessly to obtain the old Benson’s gas station for the city. White also assisted with the grant to clean up the Austinburg site.

More in the pipeline

The Port Authority received an initial grant of $600,000 from the US Environmental Protection Agency; $40,000 was used to study the site and determine the scope of the work (Phases I and II studies). Based upon the findings, the Port Authority agreed to assume the environmental responsibilities of ownership.

Slightly less than $100,000 was received from ODSA’s fund for the tank removal. Ratican says the Port Authority is seeking funding for the second phase of remediation to bring the site up to Ohio Bureau of Underground Storage Tank Removal (BUSTR) standards. ODSA money again will be sought for that.

More projects are in the works. The Authority in January acquired the former Swift’s gas station property in Pierpont Township and is seeking acquisition of a Saybrook Township gas station, as well. The same remediation funding path will be sought for these properties. Ratican praised the cooperation of April Stevens at ODSA for “really working with us” on the grant, and Larry Smith, a consultant for GT Environmental, for his expertise on the complex issues of remediating these brownfield properties.

Ratican said the Ashtabula County Board of Commissioners also played a key role in helping the Port Authority get access to the site and pursue the grants. And Janice Switzer of the Ashtabula County Department of Community Services and Planning was involved in writing the grants.

Austinburg Township Trustee Byron Dutton said he’s happy to see the county take on the project, which the trustees decided not to pursue.

“Hopefully, we are going to get rid of some blight from our community,” Dutton said. “Hopefully, the Port Authority will be able to rid of blight in Austinburg.”

When Dutton arrived in the township back in 1976, the former gas station had already been closed for at least year. As a resident and trustee, he’s been frustrated by deteriorating property and the lack of investment in not only that building, but several others at the “heart of Austinburg.”

“We tried to get it cleaned up, but the problem was that because of the EPA conditions, it could have bankrupted our community,” Dutton said.

Pointing to the old brick and frame structure to the west of former gas station, Dutton says it was purchased last year and there are plans to develop a business in part of it. And the red brick house to the north of that recently sold.

“Hopefully, we are making some progress downtown,” he says.

Workers prepare an 8,000-gallon fuel tank for removal from the blighted property in Austinburg Township on the morning of March 21. The Ashtabula County Port Authority received grants to remove the four fuel tanks buried on the northeast corner of routes 45 and 307, the site of a gas station that closed more than 40 years ago.

About Carl (309 Articles)
Carl Feather is lodging tax administrator for Ashtabula County and the founder of The Wave newsletter. He is 25-year newspaper industry veteran and frequent contributor to West Virginia's Goldenseal Magazine. He enjoys photography and videography, which he shares at his blog, thefeathercottage.com, and his Feather Cottage You Tube channel.

3 Comments on Tanking blight

  1. Timothy Clint // March 30, 2017 at 12:48 pm //

    Thanks for the article about cleaning up blighted properties and especially gas stations. I have one quick come to relative to the picture posted where in the gentleman is standing on the top step of the ladder and with the ladder positioned parallel to the tank. My company is very safety conscience and with horror I viewed this picture because the force being exerted on the top of the ladder is not strategy down but sideways relative to the angle of the ladder and the way the worker is leaning. I’m surprised that ladder didn’t fall out from under him and had it, the worker would probably have at least broken an arm or leg. The authorities overseeing this work are setting themselves up for an OSHA violation. Just a quick heads up so that unsafe practices like these can be averted in the future.
    Tim Clint
    Erie, PA
    Former Ashtabula resident

  2. Timothy Clint // March 30, 2017 at 12:51 pm //

    Thanks for the article about cleaning up blighted properties and especially gas stations. I have one quick comment to relative to the picture posted where in the gentleman is standing on the top step of the ladder and with the ladder positioned parallel to the tank. My company is very safety conscience and with horror I viewed this picture because the force being exerted on the top of the ladder is not straight down but sideways relative to the angle of the ladder and the way the worker is leaning. I’m surprised that ladder didn’t fall out from under him, and had it, the worker would probably have at least broken an arm or leg. The authorities overseeing this work are setting themselves up for an OSHA violation. Just a quick heads up so that unsafe practices like these can be averted in the future.
    Tim Clint
    Erie, PA
    Former Ashtabula resident

  3. Timothy Clint // March 30, 2017 at 12:53 pm //

    My second comment was edited. The first contained typos.

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