Cities apply for EPA grant

Assistance will help assess ground contamination

Across the county, former gas stations, auto repair shops and industrial sites have been vacant for years with concerns that the ground around them is contaminated, but three local communities are hoping a federal grant will help them redevelop those properties.

Greenwood, Franklin and Edinburgh are jointly applying for a $600,000 brownfields assessment grant from the Environmental Protection Agency, which will pay for sites in all three communities to be tested to determine if they need to be cleaned up. Sites that could be studied include properties that once housed gas stations, industrial companies or other businesses that used and stored materials, such as petroleum or other chemicals, that could have created environmental hazards.

The sites that are to be studied haven’t been publicly identified yet. City and town officials said they wanted to talk with property owners prior to releasing that information. Property owners would need to give permission for the testing to take place, Franklin city engineer Mark Richards said.

Areas that could be studied include ones that communities have been working to get developed, including downtown properties along Madison Avenue and Main Street in Greenwood and former industrial sites in Edinburgh. Determining if a property has contamination and cleaning it up will make development of vacant sites easier, local officials said.

If a site is contaminated, additional grants could be requested or the city or property owner could pay for clean-up, clearing the way for redevelopment. And if the assessment shows that a property is free of contamination, it will ease concerns from wary developers, Richards said.

The communities won’t know if they’ve been awarded the money until next spring, and won’t be able to spend it until 2019, Richards said.

Franklin received $300,000 in brownfield grants more than a decade ago and did an assessment of 10 sites.

In Edinburgh, town manager Wade Watson wants to have vacant industrial sites in the city assessed for environmental contamination, including sites that stored petroleum more than half-a-century ago. The town submitted six locations for consideration in the application, he said.

The town has limited spaces for development, so resolving issues that could be preventing vacant lots from being developed is critical, he said. The goal is to encourage redevelopment at the sites either by verifying that they are not contaminated or cleaning them up if any issues are discovered, Watson said.

For Greenwood, potential sites that could be looked at include properties that once housed gas stations or auto repair facilities along Madison Avenue, Greenwood Capital Projects Manager Kevin Steinmetz said.

The city has been investigating significant amounts of money in downtown Greenwood. The Greenwood Redevelopment Commission set up a $500,000 matching grant program for property owners on Madison Avenue and Main Street to make exterior improvements and is in the planning stages for work on the first section of a $12.5 million reconstruction of Madison Avenue.

Greenwood previously attempted to get a brownfield grant to assess those properties, but has been unsuccessful, city engineer Daniel Johnston said. Officials were able to get some feedback from EPA officials this summer on ways they could improve their chances of getting funding, he said.

The Greenwood Redevelopment Commission approved setting aside $250,000 for possible infrastructure improvements and repairs to roads near the brownfield sites, if needed for development, but what those projects may be hasn’t been determined.

At a glance

What is a brownfield?

A brownfield is a property, where an expansion or redevelopment may be complicated by potential or confirmed contamination.

It is estimated that there are more than 450,000 brownfields in the U.S.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency offers grants to help with cleaning up and reinvesting in brownfield properties to increase local tax bases, create job growth, use existing infrastructure, take development pressure off of undeveloped land and improve and protect the environment.

SOURCE: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Author photo
Jacob Tellers is a reporter at the Daily Journal. He can be reached at jtellers@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2702.