Chelsea, Quebec motel owner pushes for gas station

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by Trevor Greenway on October 14, 2010

Dan Faasen, Owner of La Vallee Restaurant and Motel, has done everything in his power to get a Chelsea gas station

Dan Faasen, Owner of La Vallee Restaurant and Motel, has done everything in his power to get a Chelsea gas station

It’s been months and Dan Faasen is running on fumes, trying desperately to establish a gas station at his La Vallee Restaurant and Motel in Chelsea, Quebec.

But time after time, he has been turned down by gas companies who say there just isn’t enough of a market for Faasen’s venture to be profitable.

“I have done everything I can do, I have tried and tried and tried,” said Faasen, flipping through a 20-plus-page market study by Pethel Consultants Inc. “I just can’t get any gas companies interested. They say there is no money here.”

But that’s the gas companies’ line, that there’s no cash to be made in the Gatineau Hills, but the study Faasen had done says otherwise.

It outlines everything from potential volumes of a gas station sales, potential convenience store sales and even population analysis and highway data for the region.

The study estimates that per year Faasen could sell 3.4 million litres of gas as well as 420,000 litres of diesel. The study concludes that the Gatineau Hills comprises the most under-served area for gas stations in all of eastern Canada.

The conclusion seems to be on the mark, with only one gas station – Ryan’s Garage – remaining open in all of La Peche after both Jean-Paul Brisebois and Jean-Francois Gauvreau closed their Masham pumps earlier this summer, citing profitability shortfalls.

The problem with these stations was that profits were only at about one-and-a-half cents per litre and that just didn’t cut it.

Another reality is that gas is much cheaper in the city. With most of the population working in Ottawa and Gatineau, they opt for a quick $5 or $10 at rural gas stations before filling up at a cheaper rate in the city.

Faasen says there is also a zoning issue, in which some zones get tax breaks on gas, while others don’t. He points to Hull, which is in Zone Zero and receives a four-cent tax break on gas. Chelsea and La Peche are in Zone Four and get no breaks.

“Hull is cheaper in taxes than Ottawa,” said Faasen. “We have to sell gas much higher because of the tax.”

Faasen's gas station at La Vallee in the 1990s

Faasen's gas station at La Vallee in the 1990s

Selling gas at a higher rate encourages motorists to leave their fill-ups to city trips. It’s what killed Faasen’s gas-station operation in the mid-90s.

Faasen did get one bite from an interested gas company, but it wanted him to install all the necessary equipment. But the 55-year-old restaurateur doesn’t have an extra half-million dollars kicking around at the moment.

“Just to put the underground equipment in costs $250,000,” he said.

Along with his complete market study, Faasen also has a petition with 2,300 signees, supporting his push for a gas station. He has given the study and petition to Chelsea Mayor Caryl Green, who is pressuring higher levels of government to give the proposed station a nudge.

“I have a copy of the business study,” said Green. “It’s very complete and very compelling. More so with the closure of the two (La Peche) gas stations.”

Green agrees that Chelsea has few options when it comes to filling up, as the municipality has just one pump at the Parkway General Store on Old Chelsea Road.

“I think it’s needed in the region,” said Green. “Certainly I see merit in this and I am willing to help it along.”

Helping it along may mean implementing a tax break in the region, said Green, but she needs help from Gatineau MNA Stephanie Vallee, who didn’t return calls from the Low Down.

There was the question of whether Faasen has the appropriate zoning for a gas station, but Green confirmed that he does.

For now, Faasen will have to sit tight and hope he gets a hand from above.

“It’s now up to a political figure,” he said. “I have done everything possible.”