Salem lands $400K in US EPA brownfield grants

SALEM – The city is receiving two brownfields assessment grants totaling $200,000 each from the Environmental Protection Agency, which Mayor John Berlin said “enhances our ability to provide jobs.”

The city received word of the grant award Wednesday.

One grant will cover environmental site assessments and cleanup planning for sites with possible hazardous substances present and the other grant will cover environmental site assessments and cleanup planning for sites with potential petroleum contamination.

The idea is to assess whether any hazards pose a risk to possible development of a site and if so, to find a way to plan for cleanup so the site can be useful again.

According to a fact sheet provided by the U.S. EPA, “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.”

Berlin said having the grant money available to do the assessments can open some doors for the city. A company may be more apt to seek a location if it’s been assessed for hazards and the grant money can help make that possible.

The city had applied for an assessment grant in 2012, but failed to get funding. Berlin said a consultant firm known as SME, Soil and Materials Engineers Inc., with offices in Kirtland, contacted the city about the failed grant application and advised city officials what was needed in the application to be successful. Berlin said more detail was necessary about the city and the type of industry that had been in town. Letters of support from various entities were included.

Ann Winegar, a project geologist with SME, wrote the grant on the city’s behalf at no charge. She and SME Vice President Dan Roeser spoke by phone with the mayor and city Service/Safety Director Ken Kenst on Wednesday afternoon about the award and what comes next.

According to Roeser, the EPA will contact the city and provide a package of tasks to complete, including coming up with a work plan and seeking bids for a consultant to manage the program, based on qualifications. He suggested trying to get the consultant on board in July and said a cooperative agreement will need approved with the EPA, likely between August and October. Once the cooperative agreement is signed, the city will have three years to use the funds.

The grant includes a requirement for public awareness and public outreach. Kenst will serve as the city’s representative for the project.

Roeser said the assessment helps determine whether a cleanup is necessary for a property and to what extent. Phase I would consist of a general assessment while Phase II may be more intrusive and detailed.

The grants allow for assessment of the situation and coming up with a plan for cleanup if necessary. A different grant could be sought for actual cleanup of a brownfield site.

One bit of good news Berlin learned during the conversation was the fact that the grant could be used to assess asbestos at the TanFastic building. He revealed he’s had contact with some contractors regarding demolition of the building to get an idea of what the cost would be and one of the concerns has been the possibility of asbestos.

The building located on East State Street in downtown Salem has been a topic of discussion for the city for several years due to falling bricks on the building next door and the possible hazards created to the public from the building’s condition.

The city ordered the building owners to abate the problem, but it’s been stuck in court for several years, with the building continuing to deteriorate. A possible settlement was announced earlier this year.

Berlin said he’s been working on a plan to possibly have the building torn down at taxpayer expense and then for the city to take ownership of the land, but said the assessment is necessary first.