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national   /   June 25, 2019

By: Amy Wolff Sorter

EPA Targets O-Zones for Cleanup

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has targeted 149 communities to receive $64.6 million in funding for brownfields, assessment and cleanup grants to aid contaminated properties nationwide. Of the communities selected for the grants, 72.5% (108) are Qualified Opportunity Zones.

The funds come from the EPA’s Brownfield Program, specifically, the Multipurpose, Assessment and Cleanup Grant Programs. and are used to convert “contaminated sites into community assets that attract jobs and achieve broader economic development outcomes, while taking advantage of existing infrastructure,” according to an EPA press release.

“Opportunity Zones are a great opening for under-invested areas to work on revitalization and reuse projects,” said Michael McGeehan, executive vice president at EBI Consulting. He noted that industrial sites are being targeted for other uses; one such example is Howard Hughes’ Spruce Goose hangar, located in Playa Vista, CA, which underwent a massive renovation to become Google’s main facility. “Former industrial facilities, in particular, are a potential avenue to create new jobs and community vitality,” he added.

Some of the QOZs selected for this particular round of funding include:

  • Riverside Park in Detroit, MI
  • Vacant property situated along Lake Michigan in Waukegan, IL
  • A contaminated building in Belfast, ME
  • A brownfield site on the Rock River in Rock Falls, IL

“We are targeting these funds to areas that need them the most,” said EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler. “Approximately 40% of the selected recipients are receiving Brownfields grants for the first time, which means we are reaching areas that may previously been neglected . . .”

Partner Engineering and Science Inc. CEO Joseph P. Derhake PE noted that such incentives can’t come soon enough when it comes to dealing with brownfield rehabilitation and Opportunity Zones. He explained that Partner, located in Torrence, CA, is currently involved with a downtown Los Angeles assemblage within an Opportunity Zone — which also involves a brownfield site. “That developer needs this extra incentive to deal with a plethora of obstacles that exist in the rehabilitation of brownfield sites,” he commented.

As such, EPA grants can help developers become a little more comfortable about certain sites within Opportunity Zones. Jenny Redlin, principal with Partner Engineering, echoed Derhake’s sentiments. “We are hearing a lot from clients who are eager to take advantage of these incentives to invest in brownfields, but have questions about mitigating potential nvironmental issues, and managing construction risks for these often pricey renovations,” she said.

According to the EPA, there are an estimated 450,000 brownfields in the U.S. Under the EPA Brownfields Program 30,153 properties have been assessed, and 86,131 acres of idle land have been made ready for productive use, as of this past May.

Pictured: Riverside Park, Detroit

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