Saturday, May 9, 2020

Pottstown Gets Federal $300,000 Clean-up Grant

This map shows the Keystone Employment and Economic Plan region along Keystone Boulevard in Pottstown and West Pottsgrove township, part of which is now eligible to access $300,000 in EPA brownfield clean-up funds.

Re-development projects in downtown and along Keystone Boulevard may get a boost from a $300,000 grant announced Wednesday.

The grant is from the Environmental Protection Agency's "Brownfield" program, which seeks to clean contamination out of old industrial and commercial sites to get them ready for redevelopment.

The grant was awarded to the Montgomery County Redevelopment Authority, but is specific to two census tracts in Pottstown.

One includes the downtown area from South Washington Street east, as well as the properties along Keystone Boulevard, a priority area for redevelopment in the borough.

“I am delighted to announce this much needed investment from the EPA into the cleanup of these abandoned industrial sites in the district,” said U.S. Rep. Madeleine Dean, D-4th Dist.

“This project will launch the environmental cleanup of neglected properties and boost the revitalization efforts that have been ongoing in Pottstown,” Dean said in a press release.

"I'm confident this grant program can assist in attracting development because it can cover front-end costs," said Jerry Nugent, executive director of the re-development authority.

The ribbon cutting for Cedarville Engineering at the 
BB&T Bank building in 2018.
He said the program has already worked well in Pottstown, helping to move numerous redevelopment projects closer to completion.

For example, Brownfields funding was used to identify lead and asbestos in the top three floors of the
BB & T Bank building at the northwest corner of High and Hanover streets.

"That assessment allowed us to provide a low-interest $250,000 loan to clean it up," he said.

Those floors are now home to a growing engineering company, Cedarville Engineering.

The brownfields assessment program has also helped identify contamination at the borough's Pollock Park and the ongoing clean-up at Pottstown Plating, located at the corner of South Washington Street and Industrial Highway.

Clean-up efforts continue at the former Pottstown Plating.
A brownfield grant also helped to identify contaminants at the former PECO sub-station that is now home to the Schuylkill River Greenways National Heritage Area and Montgomery County Community College Innovation Center in Riverfront Park.

"If you want to get financing, the first thing the bank requires is a phase one environmental assessment and these grants can help cover those costs to make sure the re-development project does not become unsustainable economically," Nugent explained.

A member of Pottstown's Blighted Property Review Committee, Nugent is intimately familiar with neglected properties in the borough in need of redevelopment.

So too is Peggy Lee-Clark, the executive director of Pottstown Area Industrial Development, the borough's economic development arm.

She said although the Keystone Boulevard area, which is part of a specific re-development plan called KEEP, is a borough priority, she wanted to make sure the grant could also be used downtown.

PAID Executive Director Peggy Lee-Clark in front of a 
map of the KEEP redevelopment zone.
"I did not want to limit it to the Keystone site," Lee-Clark said. "With all the types of industry which
were in Pottstown in the past, I've always said you could drill into the middle of High Street and find an environmental issue."

"We didn't want to be locked into a single project, and the redevelopment authority has been very nimble, stepping in when its needed," she said.

Just last month, a $142 million "green energy" business was proposed for the borough's western border off Keystone Boulevard.

The project is the first to be considered under the KEEP plan for Keystone Boulevard, a joint plan between the borough and West Pottsgrove Township that has been seven years in the making.

KEEP stands for Keystone Employment and Economic Plan.

Nugent said generally, the EPA likes to see the money spent within two years and is part of the application process through the redevelopment authority to access the money.

"It can be extended for the right reason, and we've been pretty lucky with EPA and have a good track record with them," Nugent said.

Brownfield Benefits

Nationwide, 151 communities are selected to receive grant awards totaling over $65.6 million. in EPA brownfields funding.

Eight of those were in in Pennsylvania totaling $3.7 million and the only one was awarded in Montgomery County.

“These grants will help communities in need transform contaminated sites into community assets that not only create jobs and jumpstart economic development but also improve public health and the environment,” EPA Regional Administrator Cosmo Servidio, said in a press release announcing the grants.

“These funds are going to areas that need them the most. Several of the selected recipients are receiving Brownfields grants for the first time or targeted to areas within Opportunity Zones,” he said.

In fact, the two Census tracts identified in this grant are two of the three identified in the federal Opportunity Zones identified in the 2018 tax reform, which offer tax benefits for developments located in the zone.

The benefit for the investors is it allows them to defer and, in some cases eliminate, income taxes on the capital gains earned from the investments those funds make in projects in the low-income Census tracts designated as “Opportunity Zones.”

There are estimated to be more than 450,000 brownfields in the United States.

EPA’s Brownfields Program began in 1995 and has provided nearly $1.6 billion in brownfield grants to assess and clean up contaminated properties and return blighted properties to productive reuse, according to the agency website.

To date, brownfields investments have leveraged more than $31 billion in cleanup and redevelopment. "Over the years, the relatively small investment of federal funding leveraged more than 160,000 jobs from both public and private sources," according to the site, which also noted the program also:
Increases Local Tax Revenue: A study of 48 brownfield sites found that an estimated $29 million to $97 million in additional local tax revenue was generated in a single year after cleanup. This is two to seven times more than the $12.4 million EPA contributed to the cleanup of these sites.
Increases Residential Property Values: Another study found that property values of homes near revitalized brownfields sites increased between 5 and 15 percent following cleanup.

Through fiscal year 2019, on average, $17.45 was leveraged for each EPA Brownfields dollar and nine jobs leveraged per $100,000 of EPA brownfields funds expended on assessment, cleanup, and revolving loan fund cooperative agreements, according to EPA statistics.

"Brownfield sites also tend to have greater location efficiency than alternative development scenarios," according to the agency.

Results of five pilot studies show a 32 to 57 percent reduction in vehicle miles traveled when development occurred at a brownfield site rather than a greenfield.

Fewer vehicle miles traveled means a reduction in pollution emissions including greenhouse gases. These same site comparisons show an estimated 47 to 62 percent reduction of stormwater runoff for brownfield site development.

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