The Ottawa community will have an opportunity to use federal money to redevelop vacant lots and dilapidated properties to create new jobs and increase the city’s tax base, a KDHE official said Wednesday.
Maggie Weiser, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment’s Brownfields Coalition Grant coordinator, told Ottawa city commissioners that a $600,000 Brownfields grant had been awarded to the cities of Ottawa, Chanute and Fort Scott/Bourbon County Riverfront Authority to redevelop properties in their communities.
While the $600,000 would be shared by the three entities for the next three years, starting Oct. 1, Weiser told city commissioners “$600,000 will assess a lot of properties.”
The Brownfields grant — a federal program initiated by the Environmental Protection Agency in 2003 — is administered in Kansas through KDHE and its contractors. The program’s purpose is to provide an on-site inspection of a property to determine if any environmental contamination exists that would have to be addressed before a property was redeveloped.
“Brownfields are real property, the expansion, redevelopment or reuse of which may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant or contaminant,” according to the KDHE website.
The potential liability associated with contamination often can deter business development and the acquisition of properties for redevelopment, Weiser said.
“Cleaning up and redeveloping Brownfields properties is necessary to preserve neighborhoods, reduce urban sprawl and stop the continued development of new industrial and commercial facilities on farmland,” the website said.
Reuse of existing properties or land can save cities money by not having to expand utilities to new areas for development, Weiser said.
“Often, you will find that the Brownfields projects are ideally located in downtowns and in other prime locations [in communities],” Weiser said.
In addition to the on-site visit, the environmental assessment would include a title search to determine the historical use of the property or land, including interviewing its current and past owners, to identify any potential environmental concerns, Weiser said.
If an environmental concern was evident, the second phase of the assessment process could include collecting soil and water samples for chemical analysis, Weiser said. The assessment also could include testing a vacant building for asbestos, mold and lead-base paint, she said.
Once the assessment — and potential clean-up is complete — KDHE would issue a letter certifying the site has been cleared for redevelopment.
Weiser cited an example of an old building in downtown Hoisington, Kan., that Subway was interested in purchasing. But the restaurant chain did not want to commit to the project until it was certain the building was environmentally sound, Weiser said.
Hoisington was able to secure a Brownfields grant for the environmental assessment, Weiser said, and found that asbestos was present in the building. After the cleanup was completed, Subway purchased the building, and the business created one-full time postilion and 14 part-time jobs in the community, Weiser said.
Cities or private individuals and entities can apply for the $600,000 Brownfields funds. The grant covers the cost of the environmental assessment. If a private entity applies for Brownfields funds, it has to obtain a letter of support from the city, Weiser said.
“The environmental assessment is free,” Weiser said. “The city or individual is not out anything but the time it takes to fill out the two-page application, which is available on our website.”
To view the application, go to www.kdheks.gov/brownfields
In the Hoisington example, Weiser said, it cost the city around $1,500 to clean up the asbestos in the building before Subway would purchase it.
The Brownfields projects can bring new jobs to cities, increase the tax base, or convert previously overgrown lots into new green space and parks, she said. Projects have included civic, commercial and recreational enhancements in communities across the country.
About $700 million in Brownfields grants have been awarded since the program’s inception in 2003, Weiser said.
“This is your money,” Weiser said of the $600,000 to be shared with Chanute and Fort Scott. “I would encourage you to take advantage of it.”