BRATTLEBORO — Local communities will continue to get a hand with site cleanups as Windham Regional Commission's revolving loan fund was filled with another $500,000 via the Environmental Protection Agency.
"The whole Connecticut River Valley, even into our western part of the region, was built around water and that's where industry was found. So anytime you're going to redevelop in a town or village, you have to ask yourself what was done there previously," said WRC Associate Director Susan McMahon. "To help our area thrive economically and for the quality of life, you really need a fund like this to be able to help. It's vital."
Site assessments through her group began back in 2000 while the revolving loan fund got its start in 2011. The latter piece enabled the regional commission to help people find funding for cleanups.
"We realized there was a real strong need within our community," said McMahon. "We got $1 million to start."
The assessment program, also a part of the Windham Region Brownfields Reuse Initiative, did not receive money in October but it is ongoing and still has funds available. A map on windhamregional.org can pinpoint which communities have projects through the programs. From assessment to completion, it shows just where in the process those redevelopments are.
The revolving loan fund provides both grants and loans. Grants are reserved for nonprofits and municipalities while loans can be obtained for those two groups plus private organizations.
McMahon's group applied for the EPA funding after "money was being used up fairly quickly," she said.
"When we initially applied, we only applied for hazardous contaminated sites. But we also provided assessments for petroleum sites," said McMahon, mentioning that funding was now available for both types of projects and two separate funds were created.
For sites where hazardous materials are the concern, $350,000 was secured while a petroleum cleanup fund received $150,000.
Spring is usually the time when cleanups start, McMahon told the Reformer.
"We're beginning to get interest. Nothing's been signed," she said. "People who apply through the program, a two-part application process online, takes a little bit of time."
The loans are low-interest and the money returned goes back into the revolving loan fund. Currently, one site's developers are applying for a loan to assist with a hazardous material cleanup to the tune of $200,000 while another applicant is hoping to obtain approximately the same loan amount. Also being requested are two grants.
The WRC will sometimes ask applicants to take out a portion of the requested grant amount in a loan. McMahon said banks do not typically loan money for site cleanups and other grants are not available for that purpose.
Not as many grants are going out as they did in the beginning of the fund's history. A new policy was devised to ask more nonprofits and municipalities to repay loans, if they can, so the fund remains revolving.
The MOOver facility in Wilmington, McMahon said, had tons of other money coming in. But without theses funds for Brownfields, project leaders would not have been able to clean up the site. The group was given a $100,000 grant and a $71,500 loan which is now beginning paid back since the facility is open and operating.
"They have to match it with 20 percent so basically we're paying 80 percent of their Brownfields cost," McMahon said. "We're pretty flexible so we work with them on what that means."
A parking lot was added to the Brattleboro Area Farmers' Market on land formerly used as a gas station. A $35,000 grant was used for the project that addressed hazardous materials, not petroleum as one might suspect. Vehicles were also brought there for work to be done.
New England Youth Theatre and the WRC have had a long relationship. The theater had sites assessed through the Brownfields program and cleanup at the former Tri State Auto building in Brattleboro began in the summer. A $125,000 loan along with a $75,000 grant saw that site completed.
The EPA gave the theater $200,000 for cleaning up a wooden building known as the Livery Building.
"That's a future project for them," said McMahon.
Other revolving loan fund applicants included Main Street Arts in Saxtons River, Next Stage in Putney and the Bellows Falls Historical Society's trail system.
Projects in Londonderry and Readsboro were noted for not needing cleanups after assessments. One building had a gas station in front, back in the 1920s but, McMahon said, "You would have never known that."
"We're very pleased by our projects," she added. "We've had a lot of successes."