Sitting still on prime real estate

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Imperial Oil still considering remediation of town corner property after indicating it would likely remediate the site as early as 2018

Imperial Oil said it is considering remediation of the former site of its service station in Athabasca after sending a letter April 2017 indicating it would most likely remediate the site as early as 2018.

The company was originally responding to a request from the Athabasca Garden Club to plant sunflowers on the empty property, located at the corner of Highway 2 and 46a Avenue, to help address contaminants there. The company responded in a letter dated April 13, 2017, denying the request on the grounds the property was being assessed that year and would then most likely be remediated as early as 2018.

Imperial Oil spokesperson Christine Randall said in a July 30 email the company continues to manage and consider options for the property.

“Imperial continues to manage the site as a non-operating property, which involves keeping the property safe, secure and tidy,” Randall said, adding it also leases the property to the Athabasca Hillside Motel for overflow parking and promotional signage.  “We continue to assess options for the site, including remediation. We conduct ongoing monitoring and assessment work on the site.”

Athabasca Garden Club Secretary Agnes Wurfel originally wrote the letter sent to Imperial Oil requesting the club be allowed to plant flowers on the site. She said she is disappointed the company has not remediated the area.

“I guess they cannot clean up after themselves. That’s one of the lessons we learned at kindergarten — to clean after yourself. It is kind of disappointing,” she said in an interview.

Club sought to help 

Wurfel said the club had heard that vegetation could help in reclaiming land, and she figured it would be a good idea to approach Imperial Oil with the idea.

“We thought, ‘Well, why not?’ Because that land is sort of prime land for business,” Wurfel said. “It would make a fantastic location for a restaurant.”

In a letter the club sent dated March 27, 2017, Wurfel said the club would be happy to plant sunflowers on the property to address contaminants, noting it would do so at its own expense.

“They are a low-maintenance decontaminate and would present an attractive sight at the southern edge of the town,” Wurfel said in the letter.

In the April 13, 2017 response, Imperial Oil commercial co-ordinator Joan Dynna said the company appreciated the request, but could not oblige.

“It was thoughtful to beautify our site. We are, at times, able to accommodate such requests, however this site is on the list to be assessed this year and then most likely to be remediated as early as 2018. We therefore need to deny the request,” Dynna said in the letter.

Wurfel said the club was happy upon receiving that notice, as planting sunflowers on the lot would have been a large undertaking.

But she added it is a shame the company has not yet followed through on remediation.

Town also sought remediation

Former Town of Athabasca mayor Al Wurfel said he sought to have Imperial Oil address the property during his time as mayor.

He said the town got very little tax revenue from it, compared to a developed site. He wrote a letter passed through town council asking them to remediate the property.

“I got a letter back that basically said we’re not going to clean up the site,” Wurfel said in an interview.

He added he wrote the MLA at the time about the issue as well, but got a similar response indicating oil companies are not interested in cleaning these properties.

Abandoned oil and gas properties are a problem affecting many communities throughout the prairie provinces, Wurfel said.

“Municipalities don’t have the clout, and it’s looking pretty plain to me that the provincial government doesn’t have the clout either to do anything about it,” he said. “I don’t like it, but that’s the way it is.”

Town of Athabasca Mayor Colleen Powell said she recalls the letter being sent, as she was a councillor at the time in the early 2000s. She added she remembered Imperial Oil refusing the request.

“We did get them to agree to allow the lodge motel to use it for parking, but that’s why it’s been left as it is,” Powell said. “I guess the thought of a small town in Northern Alberta taking on Imperial Oil was a little much at that time.”

Powell said she was willing to take the letters exchanged between the Athabasca Garden Club and Imperial Oil to a future town council meeting for review, to perhaps send another letter to Imperial Oil asking it to remediate the property.

“It is a main entrance to our town and it would be nice to be able to make it look really appropriate,” she said.

She added it is looking too far ahead to consider what exactly could go on the property, but it is a good location.

“Having that piece of property available would be very useful. It would be a prime spot for something,” Powell said.

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Joseph Quigley