Citizens grill council over gas station purchase

BARRY’S BAY – Madawaska Valley Township residents attended the latest council meeting to figure out why council would purchase a former gas station and undertake the cleanup of the property. 
Andy Boyd from the Citizens Action Committee approached council at the afternoon meeting on October 21. The meeting was held at Paul J. Yakabuski Community Centre to accommodate St. John Bosco students, who attended the meeting in honour of Local Government Week.
Boyd represents many members of the community who are deeply concerned with the spending of public funds. 
The township purchased the property in 2011 from Anna Etmanskie, when she retired after 57 years in business. Gasoline-contaminated soil was recently discovered on the property and the building was knocked down after discovering contamination at the foundation.
Boyd provided a list of 12 questions and allowed council to answer each one. He opened by asking why the township decided to buy the former gas station in the first place.
Mayor David Shulist clarified only he, Councillor Linda Neuman and Councillor Sylvie Yantha can speak about the decision, as they were the only ones on council when the property was purchased. 
However, both Councillors Sylvie Yantha and Bob Kulas were not in attendance at the latest meeting. 
“For myself, I can start by answering to what my reasons behind purchasing this property,” Shulist said. 
Councillor Yantha initially brought the idea to the table. The former owner approached the township to see if there was an appetite to purchase the property. 
Shulist said he has seen countless former gas station properties sit vacant in prime real estate lots in places like Renfrew and Bancroft. 
“I also heard that there was money available to these municipalities to clean up these kinds of sites,” Shulist said. “Having that information in front of me, I thought at that point to take a leadership role and say this is a piece of property that we could make valuable by cleaning it up. I don’t want to see a property like that standing where there is no value and it will look like it is run down and nobody wants to do any business.”
Shulist said the township had no plans for the piece of property when they first purchased it. 
“Maybe we went a little ahead of ourselves, but you can’t make plans if you can’t do something with that property. Having it clean, then there is something we can do with this property. That was my reasoning,” Shulist said. 
Boyd asked if there was any truth to the rumour that the township purchased the lot to build a new library. 
“It did come up in discussions that it could be a possibility, but that is where it ended,” Councillor Neuman said. “At the time, the library board was looking at a strategic planning committee because we do know the future of the library is coming down that we are going to need a new library eventually someday. So, we wanted to have a plan. Right now, we have a strategic planning committee who is looking at all aspects of a new library. That’s a five to 10 year plan. It’s not even in the picture right now.”
Boyd asked what, including legal costs, did the township pay for the property. 
Neuman said including the net HST and legal costs, the township paid $156,067. The initial price of the property was $150,000. 
He then asked if there were issues with the property that forced it to become an independent from Shell. Neuman said that would be a question for the previous owner.
 “Was a real estate professional consulted to establish true value and liabilities of this property?” Boyd asked.
“Not that I know of,” Shulist responded. 
“Was any environmental testing done prior to the purchase?” Boyd continued.
“No,” Shulist replied.
Boyd then asked if the township is now paying for an environmental clean up of the property.
Operations Manager, Hilary Kutchkoskie was called to the table.
Read more in the October 23, 2013 issue of The Valley Gazette.