SCRIBA — The former motel and convenience store that officials called an “eyesore” along state Route 104 in the town of Scriba for nearly four years is being demolished by the county and cleaned up by state environmental authorities.

The 2-acre lot was once the site of May’s Polynesian Motel and Mini-Mart before a New Year’s Day fire that destroyed both structures on the site and caused the death of the 48-year-old owner. The property has sat idle since January 2016 but Oswego County work crews have now razed the former motel and convenience store, and the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) is slated to remove the underground storage tanks.

Legislator Shane Broadwell, R-Oswego, who spearheaded the property cleanup, said county officials did not know the best course of action for the property at first, but after consulting with the state about a cleanup program, the entities worked out a deal in which the county would demolish the structures and the DEC would perform the tank removal and any environmental remediation. 

“The program through the DEC says they’ll come in with their team and take the tanks outs, do the full in-the-ground cleanup — if there’s any remediation they’ll handle all of that — and then they backfill it and it’s a clean site,” Broadwell said, noting without the DEC program the property could have sat idle even longer due to the high cost of demolition, soil testing and tank removal and disposal.

Oswego County Legislature Chairman James Weatherup said the county and DEC have worked “hand in hand” to address the property, and county work crews were wrapping up the demolition while the DEC is expected to remove the tanks in the future after several logistical and planning hurdles are overcome. Weatherup said local and state officials recognize the property is “just an eyesore and want to get rid of it.”

“We want the hazard gone and we want to put it back on the tax rolls,” Weatherup said, adding the property was a liability and the county “would never be able to sell it the way it sat.”

County Treasurer Kevin Gardner said the county acquired the property through tax foreclosure about two years ago and attempted to sell is at the annual tax auction in 2018. A buyer did make a purchase offer on the property at auction, Gardner said, but ultimately backed out of the deal due to the high cost of the cleanup. The county then sought alternative ways to deal with the property.

Legislator Stephen Walpole, R-Scriba, who represents the district in which the property is located, said after the initial bidder backed out of purchasing the property, officials thought the county could be stuck with the property for an extended period of time.

“Nothing was going to happen because of the circumstances at the property with it being burned and the tanks in the ground,” he said. “It’s something we had been dealing with for awhile.”

Walpole said with the DEC program and an open schedule for county highway crews, the “stars aligned” to speed up the process of having the structures torn down. Walpole also credited county highway workers for their efficient efforts.

Broadwell called the DEC program and the property cleanup “a great thing,” and said the end result would be a clean, shovel-ready site. More municipalities could take advantage of the DEC spill program, Broadwell said, noting there are old corner gas stations “sitting all over the place.”

Following the cleanup, Gardner said the property will go back to auction and the county will split the proceeds with the DEC. He said the county would likely include the property in the 2020 tax auction if the cleanup were complete, but it could ultimately end up in the 2021 auction.

The property is located at 5617 state Route 104 in the town of Scriba across the street from the Scriba Fire Department. The January 2016 blaze that took the life of 48-year-old owner Steven May caused heavy damage to both the motel and convenience store buildings.

Authorities at the time noted there were several points of origin for the fire and all entry points to the building had been chained and barricaded from the inside. More than a half-dozen fire departments were brought in to battle the blaze and spent more than 7 hours on the scene.

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