EPA grant gives city redevelopment ‘spark’
Palatka became one of only six communities in the state to receive funding earlier this week from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, resulting in a $300,000 grant for the city.
The EPA awarded funds to 149 communities in the country through the Brownfields Grant program. The program is meant to help local governments start the process of redeveloping vacant and unused properties and attracting new uses for the properties.
“Brownfields Assessment and Cleanup grants provide communities with an opportunity to convert contaminated sites into community assets,” EPA Region 4 administrator Mary S. Walker said in a statement. “(The sites) will attract jobs, encourage partnerships and achieve broader economic development outcomes.”
“(The program) identifies properties that can be rehabilitated, that can be cleaned up, that we can turn into productive showplaces for the city of Palatka,” Interim City Manager Betsy Driggers said. “We are laying the groundwork for the developer.”
According to the EPA, Palatka will receive $200,000 for assessments on sites with possible hazardous substances and $100,000 for sites with petroleum factors.
Driggers said some sites that would be assessed are the Public Works Department office on Ocean Street and the abandoned Florida Furniture factory on River Street.
“(Grant funds) will be used to conduct nine Phase I and two Phase II environmental site assessments at priority sites and prepare two to three cleanup plans,” the EPA said. “Community-wide petroleum grant funds will be used to conduct up to three Phase I and one Phase II environmental site assessments at priority sites and prepare one cleanup plan.”
City Project Manager Mandi Tucker, who also serves as the city’s grants administrator, said the grants give the city the ability to assess the properties and do the due diligence to show the property is clear to be developed.
“Brownfield grants do tend to spark redevelopment and revitalization,” Tucker said. “Phase I is like history reports on the properties past and what could be contaminated there. Phase II is when they take core samples of the existing soil.”
According to the EPA, a study of 48 brownfields sites found that an estimated $29 million to $97 million in additional local tax revenue was generated in a single year after cleanup. Another study found that property values of homes near revitalized brownfields sites increased between 5% and 15% following cleanup.
Driggers said the ability to assess a property for a developer could be a potential key factor in attracting new businesses and developers, since assessing properties can sometimes be expensive and time-consuming efforts.
“We are taking care of the first step for the potential developers,” she said. “There are people who are interested in coming to Palatka and investing in our development, and that is what we have been trying to prepare for for years.”