About $370,000 is still available to people in west central Arkansas in need of an environmental assessment for land or property with suspected contamination, also known as “brownfields.”
The Western Arkansas Planning and Development District has about one year left to use the funds made available in 2016 with a $400,000 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency. As of June 30, $31,720 of the grant money has been used.
Tracee McKenna, community development director for the district, has reached out to area chambers of commerce, mortgage lenders and commercial property developers in hopes of spreading the word the funds are available in the six-county region. McKenna also serves as the brownfields program manager.
She will also give presentations on the grant program 10 a.m. Tuesday at the Jeral L. Hampton Meeting Place in Booneville, and to the Alma Rotary Club’s noon meeting Oct. 3 in the Alma Community Center.
Each brownfield assessment costs about $2,000 and is conducted by Terracon Consultants. Perhaps more importantly, McKenna noted, the assessment will absolve a potential property owner of liability for cleanup expenses and make them eligible for cleanup funds from the EPA or the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality.
“If you acquire a property without an assessment you become a liable party for the cleanup,” McKenna explained. “And the EPA is not going to help with the cleanup. If you have an assessment done you’re not liable and you could get ADEQ (Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality) funds.”
Abandoned factories and gas stations are not the only target areas for environmental assessments. McKenna has assisted the Fort Smith nonprofit group 64.6 Downtown with assessments of several properties, including The New Theater and the Landmark Signs building on North 10th Street downtown. A small amount was found in the old Landmark Signs building.
The Fort Smith Housing Authority has also used some of the grant money for an environmental assessment of the land where the Red Barn Steakhouse burned in 2014 in preparation for construction of housing.
John McIntosh of 64.6 Downtown encouraged use of the EPA grant money, especially for those who own older buildings.
"It has been very easy to navigate the process thanks to WAPDD and Terracon," McIntosh said.
As noted in a flyer McKenna hands out to potential property owners "Brownfield site means 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."
A Phase I environmental assessment is valid for six months, so the grant funding would be best used for projects that are currently underway but not completed, McKenna noted.
Common types of brownfields include gas stations, commercial buildings, dry cleaners, machine shops, landfills and dumps.
For assistance in applying for grant funding to pay for an environmental assessment contact McKenna at email@example.com, or (479) 785-2651.