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WRC gets $1.4 million from EPA for brownfield programs

GUILFORD—The Windham Regional Commission (WRC) has received $1 million from the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to start up a revolving loan fund for brownfield clean-up activities.

The EPA defines a brownfield as property with the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant, complicating the expansion or redevelopment of the site.The WRC also received $400,000 for brownfield assessment work. This money is part of a $2 million EPA grant to the state to help advance the redevelopment of brownfields in Vermont.

The grant was presented on Friday by Gov. Peter Shumlin and EPA Region One Administrator Curt Spalding at a brownfield site that is slated for remediation in the village of Algiers.

The Windham & Windsor Housing Trust is in the process of redeveloping two old buildings across from the fire station in the center of the village into 17 new affordable housing units. The housing trust, together with the town of Guilford and Housing Vermont, recently received a $520,000 community development grant for the project.

The housing project requires clean-up funds because the old buildings were used to house tractors and lumber from the days of treating wood with arsenic.

The Vermont Agency of Commerce & Community Development will also receive $600,000 from the EPA to enhance its revolving loan fund.

“The state and the regional planning commissions have done a great job of getting our funding for brownfield redevelopment out to Vermont communities,” Shumlin said at Friday’s event. “Redevelopment of these sites has led to the creation of jobs, new housing, and more green space.”

The latest infusion of money allows for the continuation of the successful Windham Region Brownfields Reuse Initiative (WRBRI), a program that was started in 2000.

This latest funding award will help the WRC access EPA brownfield funding on a more regular basis, said Christopher Campany, WRC executive director.

The WRC maintains one of the three revolving loan funds and six assessment grants for hazardous cleanup in New England.

With Friday’s announcement, the WRBRI, led by WRC Associate Director Susan McMahon, has brought a total of $2.75 million in federal funds to the region. The funding has been instrumental in helping turn former industrial and commercial sites from underutilized properties into sites for productive business and community use.

McMahon said that, as part of the WRC’s plan to encourage compact development, the brownfields clean-up gives former commercial properties in villages and downtowns a second life.

The Connecticut River Valley contains some of the nation’s first industrial sites, like woolen mills, paper mills, and tanneries, said McMahon. The sites located near downtowns tend to sit close to infrastructure like roads, municipal water systems, and electrical equipment.

Campany said that redeveloping already developed land is a perfect example of what’s known as “smart growth,” a planning philosophy that seeks to concentrate growth in town centers in a way that avoids sprawl.

“That’s why we had the award ceremony in Algiers,” he said.

It’s important property owners know a site’s “history of use,” said Campany. They should contact the WRC before buying or digging into land that could have hosted an industrial process.

According to WRC documents, basic steps for redevelopment include planning, an environmental site assessment, corrective action planning in instances of on-site contamination, and cleanup.

Campany said Friday’s grant came as the result of a competitive process.

“We have the only brownfield project that was funded in this round of grants,” he said. “But the exciting thing is that we got the funding for the revolving loan fund, so we can provide low-interest loans to private entities as well as nonprofits. Once we start using money from the fund, we can use grants to replenish it and keep it going.”

Campany said one reason the WRC got the award was because of its reputation at the EPA.

“In Region I, and nationally, we’ve been recognized as one of the best at doing this work,” Campany said.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #111 (Wednesday, July 27, 2011).

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