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USEPA awards $75,000 for environmental assessment at Wellsburg brownfields project

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The Brooke Glass brownfields project in Wellsburg has received a $77,000 funding boost from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The funding, from USEPA's Targeted Brownfields Assessment Program, will be used for Phase II environmental assessments at the site of the abandoned plant in downtown Wellsburg, recently acquired by the Business Development Corporation of the Northern Panhandle.

BDC Executive Director Pat Ford said the award "launches us on a trajectory to get a clean bill of health on the site, which equates to a pad-ready site for economic development."

A Phase II assessment identifies any hazardous materials on site that must be removed as part of the site cleanup and re-development.

"We cannot move forward to raze that site, remove debris and create a pad-ready site unless we first jump that major hurdle -- completion of a Phase II environmental assessment," Ford said. "That's not a small hurdle. Phase II's can run from $50,000 to $225,000."

He said Phase II's at another BDC-owned site, the old corrugating property in Beech Bottom, cost $225,000 to complete. "Fortunately, this one is less but it's still a lot of money for an agency as small as the BDC."

It's the fifth site owned by the Business Development Corporation of the Northern Panhandle to receive financial and technical assistance from USEPA.

“The Brooke Hancock Regional Council just spent down their last assessment grant dollars last year, which were of great use to the BDC, so this is welcome news to continue our efforts to redevelop brownfields in the panhandle,” said Bill D’Alesio, chairman of the BDC board. “Because we’ve had access to USEPA assistance over the past three years, it’s led to assessment, remediation, and cleanup of projects, so having assistance available, that could lead to re-development, is key.”

A “brownfield,” as defined by the USEPA, is a property where expansion, redevelopment, or reuse may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant. Typical brownfields are sites where chemicals were used, former glass and pottery factories, abandoned steel mills, and below-ground petroleum tanks left over from defunct gas stations.

The agency's Targeted Brownfields Assessment program is designed to help minimize the uncertainties of contamination often associated with brownfields — especially for those entities without USEPA Brownfields Assessment grants. The TBA program is a service provided through a USEPA contract in which USEPA directs a contractor to conduct environmental assessment activities to address unknown site conditions potentially remaining from past industrial or manufacturing use. The TBA Program helps enable municipalities and non-profit organizations to protect public health and the environment and to revitalize communities by providing funding to assess the site in order to clean up and redevelop contaminated properties, boost local economies, and create jobs.

The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection sought USEPA's Region 3 support for the Targeted Brownfields Assessment assistance for the property. Patricia Hickman, Interim Director of the WVDEP, said the Brooke Glass site "has been a priority brownfield site in the region, and several stakeholders are committed to redeveloping the site."

Hickman said the Business Development Corporation, City of Wellsburg, Wellsburg Urban Redevelopment Authority, Brooke County Commission, Brooke-Hancock Brownfields Task Force, Brooke-Hancock Regional Planning and Development Council, West Virginia Northern Brownfields Assistance Center (NBAC), WVDEP, and other entities have been working together for several years to gain access to the site for assessment and redevelopment.

“Funding provided by EPA’s Brownfields program is an important asset for local communities working to get underutilized and blighted properties assessed, cleaned up and back into productive use,” Brooke County Commissioner Tim Ennis said.

“The investments typically target under-served and economically disadvantaged neighborhoods — places where environmental cleanups and new jobs are most needed. For instance, with an earlier EPA assessment grant, BHJ funded assessment work at the Eagle Manufacturing site in Wellsburg to allow for their expansion and a TBA funded an assessment for the redevelopment of the former Wheeling Corrugating plant in Beech Bottom.”

Ford, meanwhile, said partnering with USEPA and WVDEP "for clean up and development of the Brooke Glass site is very exciting news, not only for BDC but also for Brooke County."

"If it weren't for partnerships, we wouldn't be able to move any of these brownfields in Brooke and Hancock county," he said. "It's only because of their partnerships that we're able to assess these properties, and we wouldn't be able to lease or sell properties without Phase I or II assessments and we couldn't get financing. Buildings would just be languishing for decades."

Ford said they wouldn't have been funded if DEP hadn't first confirmed the project's priority status for USEPA. He said WVDEP will manage administration of the contract for the environmental firm on retainer from USEPA to do the work.

Ford said USEPA investments in the two counties "have leveraged a public and private investment of $35 for every $1 received from the USEPA," helping breathe new life into the former corrugating plant in Beech Bottom, the former Taylor, Smith & Taylor Pottery Factory in Chester, "and is anticipated to make headway on the former Memorial Stadium in Newell and Jimmy Carey Stadium in Weirton."