In June, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) awarded over $64 million in Brownfield grants to 149 communities across the United States. A Brownfield is classified as real property where the expansion, redevelopment, or reuse may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant or contaminant.
According to a recent release by the EPA, more than 30,000 properties have been assessed, and over 86,000 acres of land have been made ready for productive use under the EPA Brownfields Program. Each year, PM Environmental assists communities throughout Michigan and the mid-south with EPA brownfield grant applications. This year, four of PM’s clients were awarded funding totaling a combined $1.5 million.
“All have excellent stories to tell and visions for their brownfield projects, and all four will be ready to go as soon as the funding is available to use on October 1,” said John Hargraves, Regional Manager of PM’s Brownfield Group. “Everyone in PM’s Economic Incentives Department, as well as other staff, were involved. We worked with each applicant to collect the stories of the communities, research data, visit potential sites and interview stakeholders, as well as perform community engagement.”
With a highly competitive process, funding for these communities could not have come at a better time. So, where exactly are these communities located? What will the awarded grant money be used for? And what impact will the funding have on the people who live there?
Yazoo City, founded in 1841 in west central Mississippi, adopted its name from the nearby Yazoo River. At one time a major cotton shipping port, the city was devastated by a 1927 flood of the Mississippi River that covered the city in several feet of muddy water. Cotton production eventually moved westward in the United States, and the population of Yazoo City began to decline.
The city was previously awarded an EPA Assessment Grant for Fiscal Year 2016. PM Environmental assisted in the preparation of a successful brownfield plan that was used to assess four main target sites including a 20-acre cotton press site that had closed in the early 2000s. This year’s grant, totaling $300,000, is the city’s second EPA Assessment Grant. The additional funding requested aims to continue the momentum gained from the first assessment grant.
Further deterioration of the city’s downtown, as well as several brownfield properties sprinkled throughout, have hindered additional and much needed investment in the city. By targeting Yazoo City’s downtown, and with a successful redevelopment of over 40,000 square feet of current building area, 33 to 70 jobs should return as well as an improvement in building conditions and other investments that will translate into increased property values and increased tax revenue for the city.
City of Columbia
Home to just over 38,000 people and located along the south bank of the Duck river in middle Tennessee sits the City of Columbia. Historically, Columbia had been a farming town and at one time a major site for phosphate mining. As time wore on, however, land fertility decreased, and the phosphate reserves were depleted, forcing the closure of one of the city’s largest employers. During the 2008 economic downtown, another large employer in the city, General Motors, laid off thousands of workers. The city, which relies on property taxes as a source of revenue, has seen businesses and people move outside the city limits, providing no benefit to tax rolls. It has been unable to economically recover, and many former industrial buildings remain vacant and littered throughout the downtown with unknown contaminants and/or other hazardous building materials that hinder additional investment.
With the EPA grant award totaling $300,000, Columbia will target its downtown, which has been left vacant and blighted. Five specific target areas in the downtown have been selected including the A.J. Morton Funeral Home, which has sat vacant since the business ceased operations in the 1990s, and a former tobacco warehouse, chosen based on its size and proximity to low income and high minority populations, as well as for its location as an eastern gateway into the downtown. It sits on a federally designated flood plain and is within 600 feet south of the main branch of the Duck River, an important ecological resource that provides water to over 250,000 people in middle Tennessee.
City of Florence
The City of Florence, which is nestled on the northern banks of the Tennessee River, is home to just under 40,000 people. With its prime position along the Tennessee River, the presence of the University of North Alabama (UNA), as well as its proximity to the cities of Nashville, Memphis, and Birmingham, Florence’s economy has great potential to thrive. However, this has not been the case. Florence’s lack of clearly defined, safe, and attractive gateways and corridors within city limits as well as vacant properties with structures in disrepair, especially in older parts of the city, contribute to a lack of investment and are a testament to the need for revitalization.
As a community, Florence was awarded a $300,000 Community-wide Assessment Grant with funds split between assessing hazardous substances and petroleum. The city will target a few priority sites including the former Eliza Coffee Memorial Hospital (ECMH) which dates back to the 1900’s, the historic Burrell Slater High School that closed in 1969, and a former gas station adjoined by residences.
The Southwest Virginia Brownfield Coalition
Located within the scenic Highlands of the Appalachian Mountains, in the southwestern portion of Virginia, lies the City of Norton and the counties of Wise, Lee and Scott. Forming their own planning district commission named LENOWISCO, they joined the Lonesome Pine Regional Industrial Facility Authority (RIFA) and Dickenson County to form the Southwest Virginia Brownfield Coalition (SVBC) in October 2017 with the intention of sharing federal, state, and local resources to promote economic development.
The SVBC, which consists of one independent city and 18 incorporated towns covering 1,700 square miles, has been historically impacted by the harvesting of natural resources in the area which has led to a decline in development and growth. The area’s robust coal industry, of which roads, towns and railroads were built around, slowed down considerably after the 1950s due to mechanization, cleaner and cheaper alternative fuels like natural gas, and increased environmental regulations. Since 1950, over a quarter of the region’s population left in search of employment leaving behind communities burdened by blighted buildings, neglected railroad corridors, abandoned mine lands, and vacant schools.
Hoping to revitalize the area, the SVBC was awarded a $600,000 Assessment Coalition Grant. An Assessment Coalition Grant is a community-wide grant that involves several smaller communities with a lead coalition member submitting on behalf of the group. A minimum of five sites must be assessed with a maximum award amount of $600,000.
The SVBC will use $400,000 to clean up hazardous substances and $200,000 for petroleum cleanup.
The funds from the grant will focus on sites that will have the largest impact and potential for redevelopment. They include the Powell River Trail North (PRTN) abandoned railroad corridor, the Kent Junction Gob Pile, and seven former public-school properties. This is PM’s first Virginia EPA grant award.
While they may be diverse in location, they all share a common need for revitalization and redevelopment. A great deal of thought, planning, and understanding of the needs of the community have gone into each of these plans to ensure the best possible outcomes.