EPA Community-Wide Assessment Grant Funding Awarded to the Regional Planning Commission of Greater Birmingham
The Regional Planning Commission of Greater Birmingham (RPCGB) was recently the recipient of a $500,000 Community-wide Assessment Grant from the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The RPCGB, a regional council serving six counties and 84 communities throughout central Alabama, was awarded the grant in May 2022 as part of the EPA’s Fiscal Year 2022 funding round.
Each year, in a highly competitive process, the EPA selects communities around the country to receive Brownfield grant funding aimed at assessing, cleaning up, and redeveloping underutilized properties. In 2022, only 227 communities were selected to receive awards. This is the first EPA grant award for the RPCGB.
“The Regional Planning Commission of Great Birmingham is proud to announce its collaboration with partners in Jefferson and Walker counties and with the EPA in the launch of our regional Brownfields Assessment Program,” said Charles Ball, Executive Director of the RPCGB. “In many communities, the cost of environmental assessments often presents a challenge to redevelopment efforts. However, we can now support more redevelopment projects in communities hit hardest by declines in the steel and coal industries. PM Environmental will work on our behalf to help member governments execute their revitalization goals. This is extremely exciting!”
Funds from the 2022 Community-wide Assessment Grant will be used to conduct Phase I and II Environmental Site Assessments (ESAs), clean-up plans, and community involvement activities within the RPCGB’s governing area. PM Environmental, a leading environmental and brownfield redevelopment firm, assisted the RPCGB with writing and submitting a successful grant application to the EPA.
“PM Environmental and the RPCGB worked together on several attempts to submit applications to the EPA,” said PM Environmental’s National Manager of Brownfield and Economic Incentive Services, John Hargraves. “The persistence paid off. Community partners with RPCGB will benefit with tools to assess properties for environmental risk and plans for moving forward for adaptive reuse.”
The grant will target two communities and two corresponding priority sites within the region for significant redevelopment. The sites include Tuxedo Junction – a two-block stretch within Ensley (a historically Black neighborhood within the City of Birmingham), Indian Head Mill Village in the City of Cordova, and Warrior River Industries east of downtown Cordova. Additional priority sites include Indian Head Mill and the 47-acre Horse Creek Run, both in the City of Cordova. The targeted properties were selected due to the liability they pose to human health, welfare, and the environment. Additionally, redevelopment for these areas will not only improve the quality of life for residents but also revitalize properties that have contributed little to the region’s economic base.
Jefferson County Commissioner Steve Ammons, a member of the project team, recognizes the critical role environmental assessments have in the revitalization efforts of these properties. “Restoring brownfield sites serves as another economic engine and opportunity for Jefferson County. These redevelopments further the potential of the communities in our county by bringing in new jobs, increasing tax revenue, and revitalizing our neighborhoods,” said Ammons. “In restoring brownfield sites, we are redeveloping otherwise vacant and abandoned properties for the betterment of our citizens’ quality of place in Jefferson County.”
The region’s economy, which had relied heavily on mining, steel, and textile production, was hit hard when manufacturing quickly declined in the late 20th century. As a result, jobs were lost, and populations decreased resulting in an abundance of Brownfield properties with little to no funds to be redeveloped. The populations of Ensley and Cordova, two areas with targeted redevelopment sites, saw population losses above 50 percent. Additionally, the historic and ongoing loss of industry resulted in high poverty rates and low incomes, with per capita incomes for each city significantly below the U.S. average.
With the recent award of federal grant funding, the RPCGB will be able to effectively identify and mitigate environmental contamination, reduce environmental justice concerns, and create a more level playing field for the residents they serve. The grant will provide the opportunity to turn blighted, underperforming sections of these communities into functional, sustainable destinations that improve quality of life and bolster local economies. The revitalization of these areas includes maintaining and improving current infrastructure wherever possible to maximize funding and sustainability. Plans also include redeveloping the Indian Head Mill property into a safe recreational space accessible to all populations and age groups and remediating and developing the Horse Creek Run site into the Horse Creek Run Neighborhood with around 150 new homes – alleviating the City of Cordova’s current housing strain and attracting new residents.
Mayor Jeremy Pate, Cordova’s mayor, and members of the project team are looking forward to the economic development opportunities the environmental assessments will present for the city. “The City of Cordova is fortunate to be partners with the Regional Planning Commission of Greater Birmingham,” said Pate. “We are looking forward to beginning this work in the fall. This project will allow us the opportunity to continue the much-needed work of recovery in our community.”
The RPCGB, with a service area comprised of Walker, Shelby, St. Clair, Jefferson, Blount, and Chilton Counties, serves a total of 90 member governments. The agency was established in 1963 and was created to function as the “service arm” of its members. The RPCGB partners with several federal agencies to provide services like transportation and community planning, project development assistance, and specialized market studies for the Greater Birmingham area. This federal funding will support the region’s brownfield program and allow the RPCGB to partner with its fellow municipal entities to assess and redevelop brownfields in the region.
A project kick-off meeting will be held later this year, which will be open to the public and include stakeholders from each target area. The meeting will outline the goals of the grant, how to provide public input, and what the funds mean to the RPCGB and its residents. Grant funding will be made available beginning October 1, 2022 and will initially be used to assess the RPCGB’s priority sites. Additional sites in the region may be identified and assessed based on any remaining available funds.
August 23, 2022