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.