The local economic development agency is ready to continue identifying, and now cleaning up, contaminated sites in north-central Montana.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency awarded a $1.4 million three-part grant to Bear Paw Development Corp. to fund its Brownfields program, in which sites are assessed to see if they are contaminated, and now, cleaned of contamination.
“We’re thrilled about it,” Bear Paw Brownfields Program Director Christin Hileman said this morning.
A portion of the grant, $400,000, is two assessment grants, split between general contamination and petroleum contamination assessments, and $1 million is for a revolving loan fund to help pay for cleanup.
Bear Paw Executive Director Paul Tuss said both the assessment funds and the cleanup money will be a major benefit for north-central Montana. The $400,000 in assessment money will help continue to identify contaminated properties.
“But the million dollars lets us take the next big step,” he said, adding that that money will let Bear Paw help private property owners clean up contamination.
The EPA’s Brownfields program helps assess properties believed to be contaminated, and generally not in use or under-used because of the perception. Tuss said the intent is to clear properties falsely perceived as contaminated, or identify and then clean up contaminated properties to get them back on the tax rolls and an active part of the local economy.
EPA approved $4.4 million in Bronwfields funding for five Montana communities and agencies this year, with Bear Paw receiving the largest grant of the five.
Bear Paw and the city of Kalispell were two recipients of only 13 awards nationwide for the revolving loan cleanup funds.
Montana’s U.S. senators commended the awards to Montana.
“This investment will help Montana communities create jobs turning vacant and even dangerous properties into new businesses, public parks and housing that will help attract even more jobs for years to come,” Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., said in a release anouncing the awards. “This is a smart investment in healthy communities and healthy economies across Montana.”
“These competitive grants are going to mean more good-paying jobs in the area of our state hardest hit by unemployment,” added Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont. “Beyond the immediate work cleaning up these properties, these resources are going to clear the way for more business development across our state. It’s an investment in Montana’s economic health.”
Bear Paw’s initial $400,000, in two grants, for assessment were awarded in the fall of 2009, with the money received and the program actually starting in 2010.
Hileman said Bear Paw had used up its initial $400,000 in assessing 11 properties, with more identified to be assessed.
“We had such a successful program that we implemented with our first two grants, we basically had used up the funds,” she said, adding that that probably was part of the reason Bear Paw received as much as it did in this grant cycle.
“We were identified by the EPA as a success story,” Hileman said.
The $400,000 in assessment grants can be used on other locations that have been identified, while the revolving loan fund could start work as early as this summer.
Hileman said only one of the 11 sites with assessment work has come back as clean so far. Of the others with a completed assessment, all need work.
She said the money in the revolving fund can be used to make low- or no-interest loans to private property owners for cleanup work, or loans and grants to non-profit or governmental organizations to clean up properties they own.
Hileman said the grant money typically is awarded in August, but if the EPA approves it in writing, Bear Paw could start expending its grant funds up to 90 days prior to that.
“Our hope is we can be doing work on these sites … by this summer and fall before we get to the cold weather this winter,” she said.