South Peace News
The Esso gas station building was demolished on May 16, 2001. Since then, the lot has sat empty for nearly 17 years, much to the chagrin of many High Prairie residents.
The root of the problem is the site is contaminated, but to exactly what extent no one knows, except the owner’s of Esso, Imperial Oil Ltd. It makes a sale virtually impossible, unless the purchaser agrees to clean it.
Several attempts have been made by High Prairie town council to deal with Imperial Oil and have something done. All have failed. However, things may be changing.
Council has been in discussions with Imperial Oil officials and they may be open to a lease agreement. To show them what could be done, in August 2017 council enlisted the services of the Mackenzie Municipal Services Agency, to do a study/survey which included proposed park designs. The four designs are published on this page. The results of the survey were presented at council’s March 13 meeting.
“The land owner has indicated a willingness to work with the town to improve the aesthetic impact and function of the lot…” reads the report. “The town must present a proposed concept to move this process forward to a formal agreement.”
Councillor Michael Long has affirmed Imperial Oil’s stance at several meetings.
In preparing the designs, Mackenzie noted there were constraints. Most important are the 12 monitoring wells on site as well as 12 boreholes. Future access to all 24 holes is required as Esso monitors the site so no permanent structures, or park infrastructure, such as trees, can interfere.
As for the contamination, further research is needed before trees and/or gardens can be planted. It was one of the major concerns cited by the public in the survey.
Esso is willing to work with the town and pay some of the costs.
“Imperial Oil has indicated that they are open to possibly removing the concrete, bringing in topsoil, and capping the site,” reads the report.
It addresses part of the concerns expressed by the public about cost. Still, some people responding in the survey wanted no part of the town bearing any cost for improving the site.
In all, 182 people responded to the survey’s 10 questions Many positives were cited in the report besides aesthetics. Some include:
* enhance awareness to any possible park, thus enhancing crime prevention;
* the area would complement the town office [Civic Square] nicely;
* the park would be a central location in town, and potentially be a community gathering point. However, the proximity to two highways makes it potentially dangerous;
* could be an asset to local area stores by generating foot traffic;
* improving the lot would increase property values of adjacent properties.
Mackenzie incorporated respondents’ wishes in the four designs. Council was pleased with the designs, noting it was an excellent staring point moving forward.
There is still a lot of work to be done. Present the plans to Esso, and hold open houses to receive public input and answer questions are at the forefront.
“Based on the input received, the design team will recommend that one of the concept plans be used as the base for developing the final concept plan,” reads the report.
Key Features of the 4 Park Concepts
Concept 1’s key features include community gardens, a garden shed, and planted gardens.
Concept 2’s key features include a gazebo, parking area, and an art wall.
Concept 3’s key features include a playground, artistic feature [such as sundial], and expanded pedestrian corner at the intersection.
Concept 4’s key features include an open concept, matching the entry design to the Town of High Prairie office building.
Top 5 Public Concerns:From Safety to Who Should Pay
1. Ownership: The land is owned by Imperial Oil. Respondents questioned why town council would develop on this site, whey Imperial Oil was not redeveloping the site, and if Imperial Oil would allow town council to redevelop the site.
2. Contaminated Soil: Is the site developable due to its previous use as a gas station which has left the soil contaminated. Many called for Imperial Oil to first remediate the land. Several respondents questioned the safety of growing plants in this soil, especially edibles.
3. Financial Aspect: Many respondents indicated that Imperial Oil should pay for the entire project while others maintained that town council should not spend any money.
4. Proximity to Highways: Due to the site’s location at the corner of two highways, the issue of safety and traffic related nuisances was brought up several times in responses. Respondents felt that vehicle emissions and sounds would disturb any park activities. Respondents also were concerned with the safety of children using the space and recommended against the development of a playground.
5. Focus Efforts on Other Parks: As a result of other issues listed above, many respondents recommended an alternative to developing the subject site by suggesting other parks in the town should be improved, specifically Jaycee Park.