SARANAC LAKE - Village officials are reaching out to the company that owns a prominently located gas station and convenience store that closed last month.
At this point, what will happen to the former Wilson Farms at the corner of Main and River streets is anybody's guess, and may be complicated by environmental contamination coming from the property.
The gas station closed for business on April 25. It's doors are locked, it's gas pumps have been enclosed by plywood and its sign is covered by blue tarps.
Wilson Farms, on the corner of Main and River streets in Saranac?Lake closed its doors April 25.
(Enterprise photo — Chris Knight)
Mayor Clyde Rabideau said Thursday that he's concerned about having a shuttered business on such a busy corner.
"I've directed our Community Development staff to ask the company if they would consider leasing it out to perhaps our arts group or somebody that's not associated with gasoline, so we can keep it active and it doesn't look like a boarded up gasoline station smack dab in the heart of our village, which doesn't represent Saranac Lake in any way, that kind of image," Rabideau said.
The property is owned by 7-Eleven Inc., which purchased the 188-store Wilson Farms chain in 2011. It's one of 30 sites 7-Eleven subsequently put up for sale last summer.
Asked why the store closed, 7-Eleven spokeswoman Margaret Chabris said in an email that the location didn't make business sense for the company.
"These stores were part of our original Wilson Farms acquisition but they are too far from our already existing markets and are not convenient to the third-party companies that serve our stores - the commissary, bakery and distribution centers that provide daily delivery of fresh foods to our stores," Chabris wrote.
But Rabideau said he isn't buying that explanation. He suspects it has something to do with environmental contamination coming from the gas station.
In December, a drilling crew installed groundwater monitoring wells in a half dozen locations on and near the store, including in Riverside Park and in front of the Harrietstown Town Hall. AECOM, an engineering firm, was hired by 7-Eleven to oversee the installation of the monitoring wells and conduct an environmental assessment of the soil and groundwater around the gas station, according to a letter AECOM sent to village Manager John Sweeney in June 2011.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation is overseeing what agency spokesman David Winchell said is a "voluntary cleanup" of contamination from the property.
"Gasoline had leaked from the old underground storage tanks," Winchell said in an email this morning. "The storage tanks were removed and replaced. The current storage tanks are not leaking, however, the soils on-site have been contaminated by the previous gasoline leak.
"The store's owner is paying to have the extent of the contamination investigated and the future remediation of the site. Sampling wells had been installed off-site to determine the extent of the spread of the contamination. Samples from the Harrietstown Town Hall have tested positive for gasoline contamination."
Once the investigation is complete, a means to cleanup the contamination will be determined, Winchell said. He said the closure of the store is "unrelated to the contamination at the site and the cleanup effort that is currently underway."
Chabris, in her email, also said environmental issues "have nothing to do with our decision to sell the properties."
But Rabideau, who at one time owned a chain of 10 gas station and convenience stores, speculated that the environmental problems had something to do with why the store closed, and may explain why it hasn't sold yet.
"I freely admit that I've had the experience of a couple gasoline leaks in my time and spent many hours studying the law, and what happens is that everybody in the chain of title is on the hook forever when there comes to be a gasoline spill, and what will happen is no one wants to get into that chain of title and have any potential liability," he said.
The 30 stores 7-Eleven is selling, including the Saranac Lake property, were put on the market in August by Chicago-based NRC Realty and Capital Advisors. Tracey Suppo, NRC's vice president of marketing, couldn't say off hand how much interest there has been in the Saranac Lake store. If there are any environmental issues associated with it, that information would be provided to any interested bidder, she said.
"We are actively marketing the properties and due diligence information is available online for download for any interested parties," she said.
Rabideau suspects the property would have sold by now, if there weren't environmental issues.
"A hot corner like that, somebody would lease or buy it if it was leasable or buyable," he said. "We'll have to wait and see, and we're reaching out to see if we can establish contacts with the owners, and see what we can do because this is the heart of our community right there."
The now-closed Saranac Lake Wilson Farms is one of three in the area. The former Wilson Farms on Saranac Avenue in Lake Placid has been bought by Stewart's Shops, which continues to run it. The Wilson Farms store on state Route 86 in Wilmington has closed. It's up for sale and is listed, along with the Saranac Lake site, at www.nrc.com/1208.
Contact Chris Knight at 891-2600 ext. 24 or firstname.lastname@example.org.