The meeting is the first in a series as the project moves forward. The city was awarded two grants of $200,000 each with no match last year to clean up abandoned industrial sites and sites with underground fuel tanks.
City manager Michael Stampfler opened the meeting by saying the city had been working closely with the East Alabama Regional Planning and Development Commission on the project for about a year and a half, and was now developing contracts and dealing with bid consultants to “get to the next layer.”
“The most important thing is to try and reenergize those properties,” he said. “That’s going to take many years and a lot of hard work, but it will be worth it.”
Wanda Jennings of EPA’s Region 4 explained that the brownfield program began as an outgrowth of the superfund in 1993, and became permanent in 2002. The program allots up to $200 million per year to various public entities.
The city is currently in the first phase, which will involve the assessment of qualified properties. The next step will be funds for a cleanup program, which requires a 20 percent match and can only be done on city owned property. The city also cannot be liable for the pollution.
There is also a revolving loan fund program for sub-grantees (private property owners), job training and targeted assessments for entities that were not able to win competitive grants.
ADEM, according to Redevelopment Director Larry Norris, operates a voluntary clean-up program in partnership with property owners in exchange for waiving liability to successor owners, making it much easier to sell.
The ADEM program also has “visioning sessions” seeking community input into the uses to which the redeveloped property should be put.
All of the processes involved in both programs are subject to public disclosure.
In response to another question from an audience member, Norris explained that dye plants (including one recently purchased by the city which may or may not be within the project area) can contain volatile organic compounds, while many textile mills have leaky underground storage tanks, pesticides, herbicides, lead paint and asbestos, among other things. “Or it could be nothing,” he added.
Assistant city manager Brian Muenger presented a case study on a brownfield project in Valley that succeeded in rejuvenating the city’s river front. The project also drew funding from the Appalachian Regional Commission and the Department of Agriculture totaling $740,000. Recycling building materials from two mills saved an estimated $150,000 as well, he said. Valley remains a work in progress.
Leslie Noble of Gallett-Terracon, the company that will be doing the assessment, pointed out that the ultimate goal was to recycle the value of the property and making it sellable. “But you need to know the cost up front, before you can sell the property,” she explained.
Dave Cook, from the same company, added that community engagement, rather than population, was the key factor. He also explained that privately owned properties can be assessed as part of the program, but could not be directly funded by it.
John Paradise, representing the state Department of Revenue, said his agency was responsible for some of the tax incentives that can bring new industry to refurbished properties. “After all,” he said, “they’re not making any more land.”
None of the people present at the meeting could provide a definitive answer to a question from an audience member regarding possible conflict of interest.
The audience member raised the issue of Council President Horace Patterson who is the pastor of Mount Canaan Baptist Church, which owns part of the Wehadkee property on Battle Street in the heart of the project area. None of the individuals present felt they were qualified to answer legal questions.