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Brownfield grant plans advance

September 2, 2010
By PAUL GIANNAMORE, Business editor

STEUBENVILLE - Property owners are responding to the availability of money to perform environmental reviews on brownfield sites in Jefferson County.

The second community meeting on the $1 million grant that was obtained through the Jefferson County Regional Planning Commission in partnership with the county, Toronto, Steubenville and Mingo Junction was held Wednesday at the Towers meeting room.

Consultants from RMT Inc., who are performing surveys and assistance with the grant, provided an update on work done and planned.

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Looman on brownfields

Karen A. Lutz of RMT said 17 potential sites have been identified and eight agreements allowing the consultants onto the properties have been signed. Five sites were approved for Phase I historical environmental reviews and two of those are completed. Three are in progress, Lutz said.

Projections for the remainder of the year show a total of six of the historical environmental reviews to be completed. In the first half of 2011, RMT projects there could be a dozen more of the Phase I reviews.

Brownfields are industrial, commercial sites that are abandoned or underused that have actual or perceived environmental contamination. Lutz explained that in the case of a perceived contamination issue, a review can produce a document that clears the site from further need for environmental survey as part of a sale or re-use. If contamination is found, the county grant can fund a second phase study, which includes groundwater and soil analysis. If contamination is confirmed, there are state and federal programs to clean up or otherwise make the site safe for re-use, she said.

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SEEKING INPUT —Domenick Mucci, director of the Jefferson County Regional Planning Commission, led a meeting to review progress on a $1 million environmental review grant that can assist property owners seeking to sell or re-use former commercial or industrial sites that might have environmental issues. Mucci emphasized getting a property on the list for potential reviews is meant to help property owners as they seek to make income from their properties, not to get them into trouble with environmental agencies. - Paul Giannamore

Ed Looman, executive director of the Progress Alliance economic development organization, said if area property owners need an example of what brownfield redevelopment can mean, they need only to look to the work done on former steel mill sites in Pittsburgh, including a technology park, the South Side Works and the Waterfront commercial area.

"Their effort there really created employment opportunities. Land that was troublesome was turned into green land that was turned over to development folks to try to develop," he said.

The site surveys are necessary if any property owner of a brownfield, which can include anything from former factories to closed gasoline stations, wishes to sell or re-use the property to generate income.

Tom Timmons, vice president of business lending for Huntington Bank, emphasized an environmental review is a requirement.

"Any commercial property for a loan will require a completed environmental questionnaire," he said. If any answers are positive, a Phase I review may be needed.

Domenick Mucci, regional planning director, said the idea of getting a list of potential sites to review is about redevelopment, not getting property owners into trouble with the state or U.S. environmental protection agencies.

Mucci said if contamination is confirmed and Phase I and II surveys are completed, there is help available to clean up the site or otherwise contain any contamination to allow the property to be sold or re-developed, and generate income for the owner.

"This is not a hit list for the EPA to come after you," he emphasized. Mucci noted Jefferson County was one of just 14 places across the nation to receive a $1 million grant in 2009.

"Our ultimate goal is to have properties available and hopefully in the end used for economic opportunities for our citizens," he said.

Mucci said anyone who thinks there is a site that could benefit from such reviews should contact the regional planning office at (740) 283-8568 or e-mail to Mucci emphasized residents don't have to own the property to point it out to the planning commission and he wants residents to give ideas even if they're not sure it's a place subject to review.

For example, Mucci said he recently learned the Grand Theater project downtown could use money under the grants for review that could lead to further assistance.

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