Pollution cleanup plan is outlined
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Local economic developers, residents and leaders met early today to talk about a new program to help clean up areas to be developed — the Bear Paw Development Corp.'s Brownfields Program. "This is truly an economic development program that we think will really bear fruit for northern Montana," Bear Paw Executive Director Paul Tuss said during the meeting. Bear Paw, after several years of trying, was awarded a $400,000 grant through the Environmental Protection Agency's Brownfields Program to assess properties and see if they are contaminated. Christin Hileman, director of the Bear Paw Brownfields Program, said they have been calling their set of meetings this week about the program "a brownfields marathon." The group will complete its 15th meeting in four days throughout Bear Paw's five-county region when it goes to Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation this afternoon, she said. Chris Cerquone of AMEC Geomatrix, the company that will conduct assessments of potential brownfields, said the EPA has a clear definition of a brownfield. That is a property that is abandoned, idled or underutilized due to real or perceived contamination of the site. The $400,000 three-year grant is broken into two parts, $200,000 to assess petroleum-only contaminated sites and $200,00 for hazardous substance sites, which may also be contaminated with petroleum products but also is contaminated with other materials. Cerquone, Tuss and Hileman repeatedly stressed that the program is voluntary, and designed specifical ly to st imulate economic development . Assessments will not be done unless the property owner approaches Bear Paw to request it. Hileman said people who think they may have a brownfield site and want more information about having it assessed can contact her at Bear Paw, 265-9226, or by e-mail at [email protected] She added that, under the rules of the grant, onethird must be spent in the first year, and she is hoping to move quickly to start assessing properties. Cerquone said the process set by the EPA — which must approve assessments of sites — has been set up to move easily and quickly. "The EPA really wants you to spend your money, they really do," he said. "They want you to be successful. They want you to get the money out. They want you to come back next year and apply for some more." He said the benefits to property owners are many. First of all, it provides money to assess, and then clean up property. That process can help with the development or sale of property, as well as increasing the chance of bank's lending money for a purchase or development of property, and help meet regulatory requirements of agencies like the state Department of Environmental Quality and the EPA. Tuss said that at the meetings held so far, likely sites to be assessed often "bubble up to the top," giving high-priority areas to be looked at. Cerquone said the contamination could be through a range of substances, ranging from petroleum to byproducts of methamphetamine laboratories. Two important stipulations affect who can request an assessment and funds for cleanup, he said. The contamination cannot have been done by the current or immediately previous owner of the property, or by an entity that can viably clean up the contamination. That precludes many properties that are owned by or were contaminated by existing railroad companies, he said. Several people at the meeting discussed possible sites or contaminations that could be examined. Bob Nault suggested that numerous properties in downtown Havre may be eligible due to asbestos or mold contamination. Cerquone said those sites could be eligible for assessment. Barb Coffman suggested that abandoned grain elevators in smaller towns in the region also might be potential sites, and others suggested properties at Montana State University- Northern and other areas in Havre that may have a perception of contamination. Problems with contamination of lead-based paint and asbestos was one topic discussed at the meeting. Cerquone said the perception of contamination often is enough to prevent development. Once sites are assessed, they often can be developed without further cleanup needed, he said. "By the time you get in there and collect samples, it's not as bad as you thought," he said. He listed two sites, one in Lewistown and one in Missoula, where property values were dropping, banks were refusing to lend money to use on properties, and people were concerned about their health. Assessment of the sites showed there was no significant problem, he said. Once sites are identified, the next step is to get funding to clean it up. Cerquone said that because Bear Paw now is part of the EPA Brownfields program they are much more likely to be able to access money to do that. ——— On the Net: Link to Bear Paw Development's Brownfields Program pages: http://www.bearpaw.org.