BRATTLEBORO >> The Windham Regional Commission just received another infusion of cash from the federal Environmental Protection Agency for its Windham Region Brownfields Reuse Initiative Revolving Loan Fund.
Susan McMahon, associate director of WRC, told the Reformer that the $350,000 will go into the fund and will be used as grants and loans to help villages and towns clean up brownfield sites.
The funding was part of a $10.7 million package from the EPA to communities around the country.
"These funds — going to communities who have already achieved success in their work to clean up and redevelop brownfield sites — will help revitalize distressed communities, improve public health, encourage innovation, and boost local manufacturing opportunities," said Mathy Stanislaus, assistant administrator for EPA's Office of Land and Emergency Management. "RLF funding is often the key to addressing critical financing gaps to leverage private sector resources to make cleanups and reuse of properties happen."
According to the EPA, these funds are provided to communities that have already achieved success in work to clean up and redevelop brownfield sites. Collectively, these communities have already leveraged more than $600 million in cleanup and redevelopment investments.
McMahon said the loan fund was established in 2011 and has since provided $387,100 in loans and $414,000 in grants to seven brownfield clean up and redevelopment projects in the region. The purpose of the program is to assist in the revitalization of these properties to promote jobs and a cleaner environment in the WRC region.
Loans and grants are meant to fill funding gaps for cleanup and ultimate redevelopment of brownfields. Loan funds are available to public, private and nonprofits and grants are available to municipalities and nonprofits. When these loans are repaid, the loan amount is then returned to the fund and re-loaned to other borrowers, providing an ongoing sustainable source of capital for additional cleanup of brownfield sites.
The Windham Regional Commission began its review of brownfield sites in 2000 and since then has received $4.45 million, about three-quarters of which was used to identify 48 sites in the region that require some sort of environmental remediation.
"Some of the assessments ended up costing quite a bit of money," said McMahon. "It depends on the site. Some of them are quite complicated, and a lot of these sites have been used for many different purposes."
In addition, some sites, such as the Tri-State Auto building at the corner of Elm Street and Flat Street, were operated by different businesses over the years that are no longer in existence.
Half of the funds can be granted out to organizations under the WRC's jurisdiction, and the other half can be loaned out, even to organizations outside of the region. One such loan could go to the Pownal hydro project in Bennington County. Hoosic Hydro hopes to install a new turbine at a dam on the Hoosic River, but first PCB contaminants need to be cleaned out of the sediment behind the dam.
"Bennington County doesn't have an assessment or revolving loan fund it can use for such projects," said McMahon. In thinking about development for the southern Vermont economic region, she said, it's important to support Windham County's neighbors. "That money will revolve back in so when our communities are ready, the money will be there."
Windham Regional Commission has used loans and grants on projects such as the Robertson Paper Mill in Bellows Falls, the campus of the New England Youth Theatre in Brattleboro, and the Arch Street property, which the Brattleboro Museum & Arts Center hopes to use to expand its footprint. Funds were also used by the Brattleboro Farmers Market to clean up an old filling station, on a building in Saxtons River for Main Street Arts, by the Deerfield Valley Transit Association, and for asbestos and lead removal in Putney for Next Stage.
McMahon said she is preparing a loan to be used to redo the parking at the Estey complex on Birge Street, a project that will remediate petroleum aerated hydrocarbons in the soil.
Some towns, such as Brattleboro, receive their own assessment money from the EPA to identify and remediate brownfield sites, said McMahon, but most of the other towns and villages in Windham County don't have the resources to manage such a program, thus the WRC is the designated organization to assist the towns and villages.
In New England, the EPA awarded $2.6 million in supplemental funding. In addition to the money the WRC received, the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development received $500,000.
"The award is for a state-wide cleanup fund administered here at ACCD," said Lucy Leriche, deputy secretary. "As of right now, there are no funds committed to any Windham County projects, but Windham County would be eligible to apply for the funds."
The Windham Regional Commission is accepting applicants for the loan fund. Property owners or prospective purchasers of brownfield properties must fill out the eligibility form to determine whether the property is eligible to receive EPA funds. Once EPA approval has been granted to a site, the applicant will be notified and will then fill out Part B of the application form. To find the form, visit www.windhamregional.org and click on "Brownfields."
Bob Audette can be contacted at 802-254-2311, ext. 160.