Originally Published by Sarah Volpenhein, Marion Star Published 4:23 p.m. ET Sept. 18, 2018
MARION — You have probably driven past one.
The concrete cracked, brush growing out of the pavement, the windows busted in — it’s an abandoned gas station.
Two former gas stations in Marion County will soon be cleaned up using money from a state program that has been giving out grants since 2016 to dig up underground fuel tanks, clean up contamination found on old gas station sites and demolish any buildings that still stand.
The goal is to cut out blight, remove environmental hazards and return the old gas station sites to usefulness.
The sites here, one in La Rue and one in Claridon Township, have been sitting idle for years, despite some interest from developers.
Last month, the Village of La Rue was awarded $150,000 through the grant to clean up a vacant lot at 36 N. High St. that at one time had been a gas station and car repair shop.
Mayor hopes buyer steps up after cleanup
Several years ago, Family Dollar expressed interest in buying the lot from the village, which has owned the lot since 2010, said Mayor Paul Milton Lightfoot. The prospective buyer went as far as to do an environmental study on the site, but then pulled out, Lightfoot said.
But once the site is cleaned up, Lightfoot hopes it, or any other retail store or business, will buy the land and build there.
“It’s like any small town. We are slowly losing businesses because they can’t compete with the bigger box stores, I guess you’d call it. So any type of business that we get to come into the village can’t hurt,” the mayor said.
During the 2008 recession, not only houses, but stores, gas stations and other commercial sites, were abandoned and fell into blight, said Evelyn Warr-Cummings, assistant director of the Marion County Regional Planning Commission.
The Abandoned Gas Station Cleanup Grant, the grant that La Rue received, gives local government a way to address blighted and abandoned gas stations in their communities.
“It’s an environmental cleanup that allows these properties to become marketable again,” Warr-Cummings said.
Grants up to $500,000 available
Local governments and county land banks can apply and receive up to $500,000 for cleanup and remediation of former gas stations. The applicant must either own the property or enter into an agreement with the property owner allowing the applicant to make decisions about the remediation, according to the program guidelines.
Only certain former gas stations are eligible for the program, namely ones that are designated as “Class C” sites, where petroleum has leaked and the entity responsible for the leak no longer exists or is financially unable to pay for the cleanup.
Work has already begun on the second site in Marion County that has been awarded money through the grant, a former gas station at Ohio 309 and Ohio 98 in Claridon Township.
In May, the Marion County land bank was awarded $100,000 to clean up a former gas station at Ohio 309 and Ohio 98, where the building has sat vacant and abandoned for years.
Excavation and removal of the underground tanks that once held fuel began this week at that property, 3678 Harding Highway E.
As part of the project, the contractor, Worthington-based Buckeye Elm, also plans to remove a cistern, take out a septic tank and tear down the building there.
“I think it’s got a lot of development potential,” said Jeffrey Paetz, president of Phoenix Environmental, the subcontractor.
City and county officials hope to apply for the grant again to clean up the former Clark gas station at 770 N. Main St. That gas station has been abandoned for years and has been in tax foreclosure proceedings since 2017.
Matt Frericks, an assistant prosecutor for Marion County, expects that a judge will order that the property be foreclosed in the coming weeks.
Once foreclosed, the land bank could have an opportunity to seize the former gas station, apply for the grant and remove any environmental hazards.
Frericks was not aware of any other gas stations in the county that officials wanted to pursue foreclosure on and have rehabilitated.