City gets EPA money

May 7, 2010
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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has awarded 18 Michigan communities 25 brownfield grants totaling $10.7 million. The Grand Rapids Brownfield Redevelopment Authority received three grants worth $1.3 million.

City Economic Development Director Kara Wood said the funds will be used to help developers assess, clean up and revitalize former industrial and commercial sites.

The redevelopment authority received $1 million in a revolving fund grant to support clean-up activities for parcels contaminated with hazardous substances and petroleum; a $200,000 grant to conduct site assessments for hazardous materials; and a $100,000 site assessment grant for properties thought to be contaminated by petroleum.

“This is similar to the two $200,000 grants we received about a year and a half ago. With the $200,000 hazardous substances assessment grant, we’re refunding that. And the $100,000 petroleum assessment grant, that’s a refunding, as well,” said Wood. “But the $1 million revolving fund will be new program dollars for us.”

Wood said the authority has spent the EPA’s earlier grant for hazardous-substances assessments and requested a full $200,000 to replenish the fund for that activity. But she also said the authority hasn’t spent the entire petroleum grant so it asked the EPA for another $100,000, an amount the authority felt was reasonable for the program. The petroleum fund contains roughly $225,000 with the new grant, as about $75,000 of that first award has been spent.

“So we’re basically putting in an additional $300,000 into those funds,” said Wood.

Wood said the hazardous substances grant would assess up to 18 sites, which haven’t been identified yet. She said the authority usually allocates funding to assess sites on a first-come, first-served basis, meaning that developers and property owners with planned projects will have their properties put at the top of the list. The authority follows the same process for petroleum assessments.

“The site assessments are very expensive early on in a development project, so it helps the projects that are underway,” said Wood.

The authority spent $274,209 from the previous EPA funding worth $400,000. That money resulted in 16 sites being assessed over a total of 28.8 acres at an average cost of $9,521 per acre. “That’s a pretty good snapshot of what we’ve done to date, and a lot are small projects — small businesses, expanding businesses.”

Wood said the $1 million revolving fund grant has been budgeted, but like the site assessments, the properties to receive that funding haven’t been identified. She added that program will be promoted once the authority receives the signed contract from the EPA, which she expects will happen by late August.

“We’ll spend the most amount of money on the loans themselves so that we can get as many sites cleaned up as possible. We’ll have some public meetings to gather information as to where that can be utilized and where there is an interest. But, primarily, our goal is to increase employment, so any projects that are going to generate jobs and new investment will be priorities,” she said.

The EPA also awarded Cedar Springs a $200,000 grant and Allegan County two $200,000 grants for site assessments. In all, the federal agency gave the Great Lakes region 88 grants totaling $26.6 million.

One special feature of the EPA grants is that the redevelopment authority doesn’t have to provide matching funds to collect the $1.3 million, unlike federal transportation grants that require matches.

“That’s the great part,” said Wood. “We have to administer that program, so we have to provide our staff time. But there are no matching dollars required from the city or the Brownfield Redevelopment Authority. This is excellent news for the city and for the development community, too.”

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