Money would help clean abandoned gas stations

By Jessie Balmert, Gannett Ohio

Original Article can be found on The Marion Star

Hundreds of abandoned, blighted gas stations litter Ohio’s cities while local government officials struggle to pay for their clean up.

But a proposal in the two-year state budget would set aside $20 million to rehabilitate those areas, remove their underground oil tanks and clean up the surrounding soil. The idea, proposed by Gov. John Kasich, has survived House and Senate Republicans’ rewrites unlike the governor’s tax changes.

“These abandoned gas stations are eyesores in small communities and on Main streets across Ohio. These gas stations are often in high traffic areas in the heart of a community that could be redeveloped,” said Todd Walker, spokesman for the Ohio Development Service Agency, which would award the money.

Two abandoned gas stations near Marion could qualify for rehabilitation.

Abandoned gas stations must be decontaminated before they can be used for other purposes. Without rehabilitation, underground storage tanks can corrode and leak chemicals into the surrounding soil, said Alison Goebel, associate director of the Greater Ohio Policy Center, which supports redevelopment of contaminated sites.

The change would allow local officials to apply for up to $100,000 to review the property and $500,000 to clean it up. The $20 million for the program comes from money leftover from the Clean Ohio Brownfield Revitalization Fund, which provided grants to clean up contaminated sites until 2013.

Properties must be owned by the government to qualify, Walker said. That can happen when former gas station owners cannot afford to pay, disappear or die, leaving the city on the hook to clean up the blighted space.

Cleaning up gas stations often isn’t a top priority for local government officials who are already strapped for money, Ohio Municipal League spokesman Kent Scarrett said.

“It’s a great tool, especially for smaller communities where they might not have the resources to clean up blighted sites,” Goebel said.

The money is part of the state budget proposal, which can change until it’s signed by Kasich. The deadline is June 30.