By Patrick Winderl/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
Community leaders at a meeting next week are hoping to gather public support for an effort to identify possible contaminated properties in Hill County.
Bear Paw Development Corp. and Havre and Hill County officials are hosting a workshop next Wednesday to inform the public about local efforts to identify contaminated areas and secure federal money to help assess and remediate the contamination. The meeting was originally scheduled for today, but has has been postponed until next week.
The workshop will include information about the Brownfields program. Funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Brownfields program provides money to assess, clean and redevelop properties tainted by hazardous materials.
According to a press release from Bear Paw Development Corp., "Brownfields are abandoned, idled, or underused industrial and commercial facilities where expansion or redevelopment is complicated by real or perceived environmental contamination."
Sites in Hill County that have been identified as potentially contaminated in clude a number of former gas stations, said Annmarie Robinson, deputy director of Bear Paw Development.
Property records from the 1950s show about 35 gas stations or lubricant companies, Robinson said. By the 1980s, only five of those were still in use.
Properties contaminated by hazardous materials are often passed over by investors due to liability concerns, she said. Assessing those sites and beginning the cleanup process will make them more attractive to potential investors.
At least one business in downtown Havre has had trouble securing capital due to chemical contamination, Robinson said, adding that a Hi-Line couple recently discovered their house is built on a former gas station site.
She also said the recent and ongoing lawsuits against Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway over contamination caused by hazardous chemical spills in North Havre have sparked interest in environmental assessment and cleanup.
Last year Hill County applied for a $250,000 Brownfields grant to assess potentially contaminated sites in Hill County. The application was unsuccessful.
County Commission Chair Pat Conway said the county may pursue the grant in the future, and said next week's workshop is intended to poll public support.
"What should come out of this meeting is if we want to continue pursuing the Brownfields program," he said. "We have to determine if there's an immediate need. There probably are some needs that could be addressed in this area."
"One of reasons we weren't successful is because we didn't know how extensive the problem is. With the flurry of lawsuits, we think it's a good time to reevaluate this issue," she said. "If there is a large interest, Brownfields accepts applications through November."
The assessment part of the Brownfields program consists of two phases.
The first is to identify the type, quantity and extent of the possible contamination. This will include reviewing records of the property, making a visual assessment, interviewing people familiar with the site, and finally making a report based on findings. The cost of a phase one assessment is about $2,500.
Phase two is the site investigation. This entails testing soil, water and air samples to determine the level of contamination. The cost of the investigations will vary, but generally run about $30,000, Robinson has said.
The goal of the assessments are to identify contamination that can be remediated using addition Brownfields funding.
The workshop next Wednesday will be held in the meeting room of Holiday Village Shopping Center from 10 a.m. to noon. The agenda includes five topics: general information about the Brownfields program, the types of sites that qualify for Brownfields funding, how the public can access information, an overview of the assessment and cleanup processes, and information about revolving loan funds. The workshop will include an opportunity for the public to comment.
Representatives of two Montana Tech programs - Technical Outreach Services for Communities and Technical Assistance to Brownfields Communities - will speak during the workshop. Both programs have contracts with the EPA do perform work in connection with the Brownfields program.
"They're going to run the meeting," Robinson said. "We're bringing in somebody who has experience in this. We're hoping for them to give us some more information.