5/23/2018 – Lenoir awarded EPA grant to study brownfield sites

Posted on: May 23rd, 2018 by admin

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May 23, 2018

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By Virginia Annable
(Lenoir) News-Topic

 

Old, empty factory buildings sit on prime real estate scattered through Lenoir, brushed aside by potential buyers because of the possibility of contamination left behind by the manufacturing years ago. That all may change with a new grant from the Environmental Protection Agency.

 

After applying three years in a row with no luck the first two times, the city of Lenoir received a $300,000 grant from the EPA to study brownfields, sites that may have contamination but haven’t been studied yet — an unknown that turns off investors.

 

Studying the sites would involve testing groundwater and soil for contaminants and chemicals left behind by manufacturing in years past and to research the history of the sites to determine what they’ve been used for and where hazardous materials might be left behind.

 

The implications of the grant goes far beyond environmental cleanup, said Greg Icenhour, a consultant from Mid-Atlantic, an environmental engineering consulting firm, at the Committee of the Whole meeting.

 

“It’s money to essentially address blight in your community,” he said. “It’s really an economic development tool.”

 

The city has 19 sites listed as brownfields, but more than likely about five will be studied with this grant, Icenhour said. Because it’s an annual grant, Lenoir could apply for it again once the money is used up.

 

Once those sites are studied, the city will know if there is contamination or not, making developers more likely to buy if there is none. It also clears the way for a brownfield agreements with the state through the N.C. Brownfields Program, which takes liability for contamination off any new owners.

 

If there is contamination, the Brownfield Assessment Grant money could lead to clean-up grants for sites that have hazardous waste.

 

The sites include the old Bost Lumber property on the west end of downtown, the Singer Furniture facility on Norwood Street, and the Blue Bell Inc. building on College Avenue. Once they are studied, which will start in October when the money comes in and could last up to three years, the city hopes to get the properties sold and developed.

 

“These grants can help stimulate private investment in these areas,” Icenhour said.

 

The city will chose exactly which sites will be selected with input from the community, said Radford Thomas, director of public utilities.

 

Planning Director Jenny Wheelock said the grant ties in well with the Fairfield South area plan, which paints a vision of arts, businesses and residential growth in the southwest part of downtown Lenoir, where a few old factory sites are.

 

“We can throw idea around but until we know a cost we don’t know how to get there — this is going to help with that,” Wheelock said.

 

Some of the buildings were also put on a list to potentially be on the National Historic Register, Wheelock said.

 

With the brownfield assessment grant, the historic background and the recent designation of several areas of Lenoir as Opportunity Zones by the U.S. Treasury Department, which does away with capital gains taxes, several of these old factories are poised to be developed, said Councilman Ben Willis.

 

“I think this is a really big deal,” he said.

 

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