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Norwalk receives $300K U.S. EPA grant

Cary Ashby • Updated Jun 7, 2017 at 7:24 PM

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) selected 172 communities and organizations across the country, including Norwalk, to receive funding for “brownfield” site revitalization to help local governments redevelop vacant and unused properties, transforming communities and local economies.

Norwalk was selected to receive a $300,000 brownfields assessment grant to target sites in the west side neighborhood and the business corridor. During Tuesday’s city council meeting, public works director Josh Snyder said EPA consultants will be steered to such locations as the abandoned Eagle gas station on Benedict Avenue, the Stokely pickle factory on North West Street by the railroad tracks, Janesville on Industrial Parkway and the Bargain Center at the intersection of Milan Avenue and Lais Road.

“This is the first step in clean-up,” he added. “No local match — 100-percent EPA funding. … The list (of sites) is subject to change.”

Snyder later defined a brownfield for the Reflector.

“We define it as an industrial or commercial site that may need environmental remediation. The sister word is greenfield, which is a virgin field,” he said, referring to farm land or unused property.

So with a brownfield, Snyder said the site may have been used and led to some environmental contamination.

Mayor Rob Duncan said he’s pleased Norwalk “is able to assist in the process for redeveloping several under-utilized sites throughout the city.”

“My administration fully supports the re-use of vacant commercial and industrial buildings with the ultimate goal of job creation,” he added. “(This grant) helps us move along with cleaning up properties in the city.”

Essentially, the mayor and Snyder said the $300,000 grant is Phase 1, which covers EPA consultants researching properties and depending on the results, Norwalk can apply for another grant. During Phase 2, the consultants would need access to the properties for what Snyder called “physical investigation” (drilling, going inside buildings, etc.) and permission from the owners. 

“(For) Phase 1, we don’t need need their concurrence,” he added.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, in a prepared statement, said the agency “is committed to working with communities to redevelop brownfields sites which have plagued their neighborhoods.”

“(The) EPA’s assessment and clean-up grants target communities that are economically disadvantaged and include places where environmental clean-up and new jobs are most needed,” he continued. “These grants leverage considerable infrastructure and other investments, improving local economies and creating an environment where jobs can grow. I am very pleased the president’s budget recognizes the importance of these grants by providing continued funding for this important program.”

Previous EPA brownfields grants to Norwalk funded assessments for several sites including the Home Lumber property in the business corridor, which will become the location of the new fire station. The city had submitted a grant application two years ago and was denied last for an undisclosed reason.

Studies have shown that residential property values near brownfield sites that are cleaned up increased between five and 15 percent and can increase property values in a 1.24-mile radius of that site. A study analyzing data near 48 brownfield sites shows an estimated $29 million to $97 million in additional tax revenue was generated for local governments in a single year after being cleaned up. This is two to seven times more than the $12.4 million EPA contributed to those brownfields.

As of May, more than 124,759 jobs and $24 billion of public and private funding have been leveraged as a result of assessment grants and other EPA brownfields grants. On average, $16.11 was leveraged for each EPA brownfields dollar and 8.5 jobs leveraged per $100,000 of EPA brownfields funds expended on assessment, clean-up and revolving loan fund cooperative agreements.

Snyder was asked the importance of the $300,000 grant.

“It’s a huge step to getting former manufacturing and commercial properties cleaned and reused and new uses,” he said.

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