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July 16, 2012

New Albany to provide grants for brownfields studies

City says program could encourage development

NEW ALBANY — Brownfields doesn’t have to be a dirty word.

In general terms, a property is considered a brownfields site if it had previously been developed. Typically before a new development can occur on a brownfields site, studies have to be performed to determine if there’s any contamination on the property.

Though perhaps not a substantial expense when compared to the total cost of a redevelopment project, studying a brownfields site for contamination and potentially funding remediation of the site can be an unknown variable that detracts from land revitalization at such sites.

With that in mind, the city of New Albany intends to accept applications for grants for site assessments and potential brownfields remediation plan designs. The funds will be provided through two U.S. Environmental Protection Agency grants the city garnered last year.

The details of the application process are still being finalized, but city officials said about $340,000  of the $400,000 pot will be available to developers for brownfields studies. John Rosenbarger, public works supervisor for the city, said the grants could aid brownfields buyers or sellers, and will be fully funded thus not requiring a match.

“This is an excellent source of money to stimulate economic development in parts of New Albany,” Rosenbarger said.

New Albany has such a great volume of brownfields in its property stock that simply ignoring or choosing not redevelop them really isn’t an option, he added.

An example of a brownfields site would be an abandoned gas station where underground tanks had once been stored but never removed.

The city has a successful track record rehabilitating such properties, as it partnered with local organizations in the brownfields redevelopment of the land that now holds the Floyd County branch of the YMCA of Southern Indiana.

According to the EPA, cleaning up and reinvesting in brownfields has several benefits to a community including  reduction of blight, protection of the environment and easing development of green spaces.

A 2008 EPA study identified 73 potential brownfields in New Albany. Sixty-five of those sites were within the New Albany Urban Enterprise Zone, which covers much of downtown and stretches out Grant Line Road as well.

The UEZ will be the focal area for the brownfields grants, as it was targeted in the city’s application to the EPA.

Rosenbarger said the initial studies could lead to more applications to the EPA for funding.

“If we find contamination with these assessments, we could also apply for EPA cleanup grants,” he said. “Doing the assessment certainty isn’t the end game, it’s a means to an end.”

Carl Malysz, director of community housing initiatives who also worked with the New Albany Redevelopment Commission last year on the EPA grant application, said there will be a call for submissions from the community once all the partners in the effort are determined and the details of the process finalized.

It’s rare to have funds available to developers and brownfields owners to perform such studies, he said.

“We’re trying to take the burden off the front-end costs,” Malysz said.

He agreed the city must acknowledge its brownfields and remediate the issues.

“We’re not in a position, from a municipal standpoint, to essentially throw away our brownfields,” he said. “We need to analyze the problem, let the problem be of record, and come up with a cleanup.”

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