Officials say six buildings at Discovery beyond repair

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Lambton County building officials say six buildings at Petrolia Discovery are “unsalvageable” and have placed an order to keep the public off the property.

Kelly Bedard was one of a handful of experts that Town of Petrolia officials assembled to look at the historic site after it agreed to begin managing the site. On Aug. 12 and 17, Bedard and officials from the Ontario Electrical Authority, property standard officials and the fire chief toured the grounds looking at the site.

On Sept. 21, Bedard issued an Order to Remedy Unsafe buildings. “Public access is not permitted until this Order has been complied with and re-inspected,” it says on the sheet of paper posted at the historic oil field’s gate on Discovery Line.

Bedard says most of the walkways are hazardous and says six buildings are “unsalvageable” including The Blue House – which was moved to the site in the 80s – the store and the historic church which was also moved to the site.

“Church is extremely poor condition,” Bedard tells The Independent. “There is a definite raccoon infestation …and the smell the urine incredible.” Bedard says fixing the building may be possible but she is “not sure how you would get the smell out.”

A number of barns and portables from the 1970s were also need to be removed.

Dawn Sperling, the chair of the foundation, was not surprised by most of the findings saying they have been working on a restoration plan since the spring. She was surprised however that the church is considered unsalvageable.

And she says because the property is designated as a heritage site, it will take some time to figure what can and should be done to persevere as many of the buildings as possible.

The board will be doing much of that work without assistance from the Town of Petrolia. CAO Manny Baron and Mayor John McCharles tell The Independent the town has “reluctantly” had to step away from the management role it took on in August after seeing the reports on the state of the site.

Baron, in a written statement, says as those reports came in, it became clear that “restoration of Petrolia Discovery was a prohibitively costly undertaking with serious liability implications.

“As a result, it was decided that the town would reluctantly remove itself from the management of Petrolia Discovery immediately,” says Baron. McCharles says it was a difficult decision.

“It saddens us to have to remove ourselves from the project, but after countless meetings and careful consideration, there simply is no alternative,” says McCharles.

“A great deal of hard work was put into assessing the condition of Petrolia Discovery, however, it soon became apparent that while we greatly value the role Discovery could play in the community, the state of the property, the buildings and contents, and the wells themselves, made the situation so critical as to be beyond the financial and manpower resources of the town.

“We didn’t maybe realize how serious it was, “ added McCharles in an interview with The Independent. “We’re not in a position to take that on.”

Sperling understands the town’s position adding the town did “a great service for us.

“Just because they stepped aside in the management role doesn’t mean they don’t support us. Its just business.”

The order from Lambton County building services gives the Discovery Foundation until March 31, 2016 to come up with a plan to restore or demolish the buildings. Sperling says there is no doubt some of the storage buildings listed in the report will be removed but the board has to figure out just what affect the historical designation has on any plans for restoration or demolition.

“We’re going through paper work to see where designations lie and where we can find grants to help get things going.”

Local oilmen are still working with Discovery’s contract oilman to repair the 20 wells on site. The Ministry of Natural Resources is also working closely with the foundation to make sure the production runs smoothly at the historic field.

McCharles believes that will be key in generating the revenue need to get Discovery up on its feet. “Without a lot of money available, it is really difficult,” he says.

But Sperling says the board is determined and says the community and government agencies have been very supportive. “Everybody is working with us,” she says adding the Sarnia-Lambton Business Development Corporation, which recently loaned Discovery money is helping as well. “Everyone wants to see Discovery revitalized and thrive.”

Sperling says the board is hoping to complete some of the simpler work before the winter arrives including rebuilding wooden walkways. “We’re looking for volunteers, looking for donation… We’re looking for funding to buy stuff like pressure treated lumber to get our walkways back up,” she says. “If people have a skill they think we can use, give us a call.”

She adds the foundation board will soon be reaching out to the community hosting a volunteer information night to give people a better idea of what is needed on the site as they work to revitalize Discovery.

Even the county building inspector is hopeful some of the damage can be repaired. But Kelly Bedard says it will take a lot of work. “In an ideal situation, realistically it would probably take a year (to repair the damage),” she says “if there are no issues with funding or money.

“We’re working with the board to see what can be done and they have some room – that’s why we’ve given the unusually long deadline.”

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