Old Esso land could be green space

Land owned by Imperial Oil Co. across from the town office has been a concern of town councils and residents for many years. Town of High Prairie council discusses plans to beautify the Imperial Oil land across the street from the town office. Left-right, are Mayor Linda Cox and councillors Brian Gilroy, Arlen Quartly, Debbie Rose, Michael Long and Donna Deynaka. Missing in photo is Councillor Brian Panasiuk.

Richard Froese
South Peace News
Vacant land formerly occupied by an Esso gas station downtown High Prairie could become green space featuring a garden.

At its regular meeting Aug. 8, Town of High Prairie council approved two recommendations by Mayor Linda Cox to convert the land into a garden park.

Council first approved a recommendation to direct administration to contact land owner Imperial Oil Co. and restart negotiations to lease the lot across from the town office for a term from 10-20 years for a community garden.

“This negotiation should also include a cost-sharing aspect for designing and improving the green space,” Cox says in her report to council.

Secondly, council approved a recommendation to direct administration to contact Mackenzie Municipal Services Agency to design a park, given the parameters of the lot, with a community garden feature, as part of its contract with the town.

Cox also recommended that up to $20,000 from sesquicentennial budget be allocated to make it a legacy project.

But only she and Councillor Brian Gilroy supported it.

Councillors Michael Long, Arlen Quartly, Debbie Rose and Donna Deynaka voted against.

Councillor Brian Panasiuk was absent from the meeting.

Rose says she opposes tax dollars for a project on land that isn’t owned by the town, and others agreed.

However, the mayor challenged that.

“I’m willing to say it’s a good use of taxpayers’ money to make it a park,” Cox says.

“We have had many people say for the past four years (current council term) that it’s an eyesore.”

The mayor says the project has become a priority for council, even as its term ends with municipal elections Oct. 16.

“As part of our strategic planning session Feb. 27, the redevelopment of the old Esso lot was designated as a priority item that council wanted to move forward with,” Cox says in a report to council.
“If we wish to see the community garden section available for next year, we must secure the land, design the green space, as well as build and place the garden boxes this year.”

Councillors say the draft drawing could be a positive step for Imperial Oil Co. to become a partner.

“The first step is to get Mackenzie to design a concept and then approach Imperial,” Deynaka says.
“This is our vision.”

Another councillor agreed with that.

“If we get a draft plan, that will offer Imperial a good concept,” says Long, who notes that the site at the junction of Highway 2 and Highway 749 needs to be cleaned up. This is our gateway, it’s got to change.”

He further says the project would enhance the business community.

“This would be an incentive for businesses to look at downtown revitalization,” Long says.

After the business closed and the building was demolished about 20 years ago, the town has been waiting for Imperial to take steps to clean up the property. As a private citizen, Long staged a social media campaign last October to urge residents to request that Imperial Oil clean up the land.

A company official also responded to Imperial’s position.

“Imperial is currently in discussions with the Town of High Prairie regarding the future of the site,” says Christine Randall, public and government affairs officer for Imperial, responding to an email from South Peace News.
“Imperial is managing the site as a non-operating surplus property.”

That involves keeping the property safe, secure and tidy.

“When deciding to remediate a property for sale or other redevelopment options, in addition to community, environmental and technical considerations, Imperial also must consider various remediation alternatives, the market value of the property, potential future uses and regulatory requirements, including regulatory liability closure,” Randall says.

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