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EPA grants to assess pollution in Billings' East Downtown district

Release Date: 04/07/2008
Contact Information: Dan Heffernan, 303-312-7074

Environmental assessments aim to spur redevelopment

(Denver, Colo. -- April 7, 2008) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today awarded the Big Sky Economic Development Authority two brownfields assessment grants totaling $400,000. The Authority serves the City of Billings and Yellowstone County and will focus its brownfields efforts on the East Downtown Urban Renewal District, a community east of downtown Billings. The grants will be used to conduct site assessments of properties in the district and to support community outreach activities and encourage reuse.

Billings' East Downtown area has been home to a meat-packing plant and other industrial and commercial operations that have likely used or generated hazardous substances. Of the 276 properties in the area, 65 are vacant or abandoned. These include properties that have been owned by a former oil and gas company, car dealerships, and at least 10 service stations. Assessment of brownfields in the target area will provide information about environmental contamination and is expected to be the Authority's first step toward implementing its Urban Renewal Plan for economic growth.

"The thorough assessment of East Downtown is a big first step towards revitalization of this underutilized area," said EPA brownfields coordinator, Dan Heffernan. "These grants will generate clear information about the extent and type of contamination that exists on the site, removing a critical barrier to public and private investment."

    EPA’s Brownfields Program empowers states, communities, and other stakeholders to work together to prevent, assess, safely clean up, and sustainably reuse brownfields. A brownfield site is real property, the expansion, redevelopment, or reuse of which may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant. On January 11, 2002, President George W. Bush signed into law the Small Business Liability Relief and Brownfields Revitalization Act. Under this law, EPA provides financial assistance to eligible applicants through four competitive grant programs: assessment grants, revolving loan fund grants, cleanup grants, and job training grants. Additionally, funding support is provided to state and tribal response programs through a separate mechanism.

    Communities in 43 states will share more than $74 million in brownfields grants to help revitalize former industrial and commercial sites, turning them from problem properties to productive community use. The grants, awarded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, also go to two tribes and two U.S. Territories.

    “By revitalizing and restoring neighborhoods nationwide, EPA’s Brownfields Program is proving that being a little green is doing a lot of good,” said EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson. “These grants will help convert even more environmental eyesores back into sources of community pride.”

    Brownfields are sites where expansion, redevelopment, or reuse may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant. In January 2002, President Bush signed the Small Business Liability Relief and Brownfields Revitalization Act, which authorizes up to $250 million in funds annually for brownfields grants. The 2002 law expanded the definition of what’s considered a brownfields, so communities may now focus on mine-scarred lands or sites contaminated by petroleum or the manufacture and distribution of illegal drugs.

    In all, 209 applicants were selected to receive 314 assessment, revolving loan fund, and cleanup grants:
    • 194 assessment grants totaling $38.7 million to be used to conduct site assessment and planning for eventual cleanup at one or more brownfields sites or as part of a community-wide effort.
    • 108 cleanup grants totaling $19.6 million to provide funding for grant recipients to carry out cleanup activities at brownfields sites they own.
    • 12 revolving loan fund grants totaling $15.7 million to provide funding for communities to capitalize a revolving loan fund and to provide subgrants to carry out cleanup activities at brownfields sites.
    • Revolving loan funds are generally used to provide low interest loans for brownfields cleanups.

    The brownfields program encourages redevelopment of America's estimated 450,000 abandoned and contaminated waste sites. Since the beginning of the program, EPA has awarded 1,255 assessment grants totaling more than $298 million, 230 revolving loan fund grants totaling about $217 million, and 426 cleanup grants totaling $78.7 million.

    In addition to industrial and commercial redevelopment, brownfields approaches have included the conversion of industrial waterfronts to river-front parks, landfills to golf courses, rail corridors to recreational trails, and gas stations to housing. As of January 31, 2008, EPA's brownfields assistance has leveraged more than $10.4 billion in cleanup and redevelopment funding and 47,201 jobs in cleanup, construction, and redevelopment. Assessments have been performed on 11,738 properties and 256 properties have been cleaned up.

    More information on the grant recipients: