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December 7, 2012 10:18:13 AM
A project aimed at identifying possibly contaminated properties for renewal will be implemented in Columbus sometime in 2013.
A $400,000 Brownfields Assessment Grant will be fully- implemented next year, said city planner Christina Berry. Berry hopes the assessments could lead to economic development for Columbus.
"The main reason we applied for this grant is for economic development," Berry said. "The grant will allow us to assess properties to see if they have contaminants and clear them for development. If we do find contaminants, we can get more money to clean up the contaminants."
Berry said the grant will be administered in two phases. Phase one will be the contaminate assessment for the properties, which Berry said could cost between $3,000-$5,000 per property. If contaminates are found, Berry said phase two will allow the consultants to actually get soil sample tests from the contaminated property.
The city has already identified 30 properties that might qualify for the assessment and is asking residents to help identify other properties that might be contaminated.
"I have created a proposed policy regarding the brownfields guidelines I'm hoping the council will approve at the next board meeting," Berry said.
Included in Berry's proposal is language regarding site ownership and access to the potential sites. Funding for phase one properties is not to exceed $10,000 while funding for phase two is not to exceed $100,000. Berry also has a proposed ranking system to identify "marketable sites that meet developer needs and determine sites that best promote economic development in Columbus."
"We haven't gotten permission from the landowners to do the assessments," Berry said. "If there is an area of town where someone has a vacated cleaners or gas station, they may qualify for an assessment. Because of the limited funds that are available, we will have some criteria regarding ranking the assessments. If there is a site that a developer is interested in and has the financing lined up, this site will move to the top of the list."
The brownfield and land revitalization grants are grants provided through the Environmental Protection Agency. Other Mississippi cities that have received an assessment grant include Gulfport (2011), Quitman (2011) and Hattiesburg (2012). Oktibbeha County received contaminant assessment money in 1998. The EPA's brownfields website (epa.gov/brownfields) claims brownfields projects leveraged $17.79 per EPA dollar expended and created 78,269 jobs nationwide.
According to the website, applicants may seek a waiver of some of the limits. Such waivers must be based on the anticipated level of hazardous substances, pollutants, or contaminants (including hazardous substances co-mingled with petroleum) at a single site. A coalition of three or more eligible applicants can submit one grant proposal under the name of one of the coalition members for up to $ 1 million.
Once the grant money is in place in Columbus, Berry said she plans to create a "one stop" environment for those seeking assessment applications.
"We are creating an office at 1609 Main St., which is the shopping center where the Municipal Complex is located," Berry said. "It's a brownfields repository. It's a place where developers can come and research properties and citizens can come and fill out applications. I plan to move my office there and make it a place where the community can come to research city projects."
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