EPA grant awarded to BDC, port

LOCAL NEWS MAY 21, 2016   Efforts to assess and remediate brownfield sites in the region will continue after Friday’s announcement of a $600,000 coalition grant by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency awarded by the Jefferson County Port Authority and the Business Development Corp. of the Northern Panhandle. The grant – the maximum amount possible – will assist in the environmental assessment and eventual repurposing of potentially contaminated properties in Brooke and Hancock counties in West Virginia and Jefferson County in Ohio. In particular, the grant is planned to focus on sites in Newell, New Cumberland, Weirton, Wellsburg, Toronto, Steubenville and Mingo Junction. Evan Scurti, executive director of the Jefferson County Port Authority, noted the importance of brownfield assessment and clean-up projects in the valley, explaining there is little unused land available for development on either side of the Ohio River. “We almost have to do this more than other regions. We’ve got to reuse our land,” Scurti said. “This will be the first of many initiatives for our Port Authority.” The grant can be used for projects on both public and private land, as long as it is for an owner who has taken over the site after the contamination was done. “It has to be a new owner,” Scurti said. The receipt of the grant is unique, according to BDC Executive Director Pat Ford, as it can be used in an area served by two federal regions. Application for the coalition grant included contributions from the BDC, the Port Authority, the Brooke-Hancock-Jefferson Metropolitan Planning Commission, the Northern West Virginia Brownfields Assistance Center, the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, the Benedum Foundation, U.S. Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., and others. It is a sign, Ford said, of a growing cooperative effort toward economic redevelopment to benefit the entire region, not just one state or county. “Industries don’t want to move into an area that’s unstable politically,” Ford said, explaining collaboration and creativity in marketing a region provides a stronger opportunity to attract new business. As part of the grant, to be administered with the assistance of the BHJ, Scurti and Ford will co-chair a new task force to be established with the goal of better identifying potential sites for the grant. The work also will necessitate the hiring of a land remediation specialist. The involvement of the BHJ will be an additional asset, according to Scurti, as the agency already is federally recognized and also operates across the two federal regions. “Repurposing our underutilized land assets is a top priority of our coalition,” Port Authority Board Chair Deborah Venci stated. “Not only are these sites eventually remediated and redeveloped for the creation of jobs, but environmental justice is served by eliminating detrimental health effects for our communities and their residents.” BDC Board Chair William D’Alesio concurred, saying brownfield cleanup has a positive influence on the health of residents and the region. “Eradicating contaminants on brownfield sites will increase the fiscal stability of our communities by allowing vacant properties to again contribute to the tax base,” D’Alesio said. “This effort demonstrates the strength our three counties and two states can have when we work together toward a common goal – jobs.” The BDC also received two clean-up grants from the EPA to be used on projects in Weirton. Of those grants, $52,500 has been awarded for continuing clean-up of the former Jimmy Carey Stadium property, with $106,000 set for the Lodge at Williams Golf and Country Club. Ford said he is hopeful these grants will kick-start the repurposing of the sites, noting previous projects have assisted with development projects at the Rock Springs Business Park in Chester, the Hancock County Chrysler dealership in Newell, the Three Springs Business Park in Weirton and the Beech Bottom Industrial Park. “Strategically based attention, with the use of these grants, make it possible to assess, remediate, repurpose, attract investment and create jobs for our community,” Ford stated.