Grant program to aid in finding, cleaning brownfields

LABELLE — Hendry County commissioners learned recently that due a grant of $600,000 to the Southwest Florida Regional Planning Council, owners of possibly environmentally damaged private properties in Hendry, Glades and Collier counties can apply for aid to clean up the hazards.

According to a staff report presented to the Hendry board on July 16: The SW FL Regional Planning Council and its Promise Zone Coalition members (Hendry, Glades, Collier, Immokalee) received a grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency — Brownfields Program for a Promise Zone Community Wide Assessment, including public outreach and engagement to develop a site inventory of property identification and prioritization.

Special to the Lake Okeechobee News
Rusting petroleum-product barrels are just one type of the refuse that can add up to an eligible brownfield site.

Assessment activities will include, but not be limited to, natural resource and wetlands surveys, asbestos surveys, lead paint surveys, property condition assessments, mold surveys and ground penetrating radar (GPR) Phase I environmental assessments. The grant is designed to assist with cleanup costs relating to properties where actual or perceived environmental contamination has complicated the property owner’s ability to expand or redevelop.

The Southwest Florida Brownfields Coalition (SWFBC), whose members are the SWFRPC, Collier County, Glades County and Hendry County, requested the $600,000 in assessment funding to provide support to perform community-wide hazardous substance and petroleum assessments. SWFRPC staff members will be responsible for implementing this coalition project with the other three coalition members assisting in the prioritization of sites as well as disseminating information. There are multiple brownfield sites within the target area, which is home to six potential sites already identified. The SWFRPC, the lead for the coalition grant, is proposing a three-year time frame to complete the assessment portion of its brownfields program. The awarded funding will support economic development projects, generating a positive outcome for the region.

The grant money will finance up to 35 Phase I ESAs (Environmental Site Assessments), one Generic Quality Assurance Project Plan (QAPP), 14 Phase II ESAs with Site Specific QAPPs, and up to six Remedial Action Plans (RAPs). This project aligns with the goals of the Southwest Florida Promise Zone Strategic Plan, the Comprehensive Plans of Collier, Glades, and Hendry counties, and the Southwest Florida Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy 2017-2022 (CEDS). The CEDS specifically identifies brownfield remediation and redevelopment as a focus and places a high priority on equitable development and sustainable practices.

C.J. Kammerer of the SWFRPC and Scott Graf of Tarracon Consultants Inc. were at the meeting to tell commissioners about the work.

Mr. Kammerer said the planning council has “hired Tarracon to be our consultant on that project … and Scott Graf’s here to give you a presentation.

The grant is “basically double what they (EPA) typically award because it is a coalition,” Mr. Graf said. Half of the money will go for hazardous substances and half for petroleum pollution.

“The focus is Hendry-Glades and the Immokalee area,” he added, “and identification of sites, phase one and two environmental site assessments — that’s really the majority of what this grant is about. Also remediation and reuse planning, in phase two if we find contamination in the soil or groundwater sampling, and that would assess what the extent of the contamination might be and the cost to clean up,” Mr. Graf explained. It also involves community outreach, program reporting to EPA, with phase 1 assessments given to the SWFRPC, EPA and the property owner.

“This is a catalyst to redevelop these sites and get them back on the tax roll. Examples are, they can be dry cleaners, gas stations, landfills. You name it, everybody knows those sites,” he said.

A number of the commissioners had questions about the program, and Mr. Kammerer and Mr. Graf took them one by one. They said the entirety of each county is included, that there is a three-year time frame on spending the money and that both public and private lands are eligible

Commissioner Karson Turner wanted to know, “Have you implemented anywhere prior?”

Mr. Graf replied, “We have already started. They’ve all been so far in the Moore Haven area of Glades.” Mr. Turner asked him to email the commissioners a report on the projects so far.

The presenters noted that the intent is to increase property values, provide liability protection for potential purchasers and reduce blight by redeveloping. Mr. Graf gave an example of one of their earlier projects. “It actually turned an underutilized property in the middle of Jacksonville into a community garden, so that’s always great to see.”

He explained that it is a voluntary program, so homeowners and property owners must come forward and apply for the help. To learn more about this program or to apply, go online to swfrpc.org/programs/brownfields/.

“We’re all about improving and protecting the environment,” he said.

So how does one participate? “It is voluntary, but there is money to be had. If you’re a property owner, you fill out an application, to the planning council and the coalition for review. If it’s selected, then there has to be an access agreement allowing Terracon to go in,” and then they take it from there.

Commissioner Turner asked whether any Immokalee properties have been identified yet, and Mr. Graf said no.

“There are some potential properties at the airport,” however, he pointed out. “Their board would be able to do that work, and so that’s on the board.”

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