1 Million For Area Brownfield Reviews

April 13, 2008
| By Pete Daly |
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GRAND RAPIDS — Four West Michigan communities have been awarded a total of $1 million in grants from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to fund environmental contamination assessments for potential brownfield classification.

Grand Rapids, Kentwood and Wyoming will receive a total of $800,000 for brownfield assessments in targeted redevelopment areas, and $200,000 has been awarded for use by the city of Allegan near the Kalamazoo River. The grants are part of $74 million in EPA grants to 43 states, announced last week. Michigan communities received a total of $7.8 million.

Grand Rapids will receive two grants, each for $200,000: one to assess hazardous substances at locations throughout the city and the other to assess petroleum contamination in the 1,200-acre GrandWalk area that overlaps the east side of Walker and the northwest side of Grand Rapids. Kentwood and Wyoming will each receive $200,000 to assess hazardous substances on numerous sites there.

Kara Wood, economic development director for Grand Rapids, said none of the specific sites to be tested there have yet been identified.

"The assessments are important to determine what kind of contamination is there (and) how to address it," said Wood.

Rick Chapla, vice president of urban redevelopment for The Right Place Inc., said the EPA brownfield assessment grants are sought each year by communities throughout the U.S., and "are very competitive." He said the Greater Grand Rapids communities, with support from The Right Place, "have applied for these grants in the past."

However, he believes this is the first time that any of these EPA brownfield assessment grants have been awarded to Grand Rapids, Kentwood or Wyoming.

"I think it helps that the national brownfield conference is in Detroit next month," added Chapla.

Wood said one key factor in the application filed by Grand Rapids was that "the economic downturn left behind a lot of abandoned brownfields" in need of redevelopment.

"The strong urban center Grand Rapids enjoys is due in part to the dedication we have to making urban properties attractive for investment," said Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell. He said the city Brownfield Redevelopment Authority has approved more than 65 brownfield redevelopment projects resulting in more than $800 million in private investment and over 7,000 jobs.

"The Right Place and our city Economic Development Department collaborate to make best use of tools such as state tax credits and these federal grants so that we can assist businesses and developers," said Heartwell.

According to Kentwood Mayor Richard Root, Kentwood has "matured to the point that we have many of the same land-use issues that are typically thought of in core cities like Grand Rapids."

"Michigan has been a leader in brownfield redevelopment for more than a decade," said Chapla, noting the state's passage of brownfield legislation in 1996, which subsequently served as a model for other states. West Michigan, he added, has become "one of the most active redevelopment regions in the state."

The 2008 National Brownfields Conference will be held at the Detroit Cobo Center May 5 to 7, and is expected to draw more than 6,000 environmental and economic development officials, finance and insurance providers, risk managers, planners, attorneys, engineers and others. 

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