EPA grant to test Janesville brownfield sites

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Friday, June 10, 2011
— With an eye on redeveloping closed industrial properties, the city of Janesville wants to use a federal grant to assess environmental concerns at several sites, including the closed General Motors assembly plant.

The city’s $400,000 Environmental Protection Agency grant will focus on a handful of brownfield sites, which are abandoned or closed properties where the potential for contamination hampers redevelopment.

City officials will not publicly identify the sites, primarily because they need the cooperation of property owners to complete the assessments and apply for further government help with remediation.

“If I say we’re looking at 603 Smith St., that guy’s property value immediately drops whether there’s any contamination or not,” said Vic Grassman, the city’s economic development director.

Generally, however, the city has said the sites are in the downtown, Five Points and Traxler Park areas, with the exception of the GM property.

Grassman said the city would contact targeted property owners later this summer.

“It’s critical that the private sector allow us onto the site,” he said. “Once we contact the landowners, they either say they get it and want to work with us or they’ll tell us to get off their property because they don’t want to know what’s there.”

Technically, the city will receive two $200,000 grants. One will be for hazardous substances assessment, while the other will look at petroleum problems associated with underground tanks.

The tests will determine whether there are contaminants at the sites and how significant any pollution might be.

Typically, the testing is done where owners have an interest in redeveloping the property. A first phase is an analysis of a property based on existing records. A second phase includes a physical examination of the property.

The city is authorized for five Phase I and three Phase II assessments at sites suspected of harboring hazardous substance. On the petroleum side, the city will do five assessments on each phase.

Grassman said he’s not certain whether the GM property on the city’s south side will be included in the testing.

That’s not due a lack of interest, he said, noting that the city, EPA and state Department of Natural Resources have had several discussions about the property and would like to test it.

While local, state and federal officials would certainly welcome GM back to Janesville, they want to start the long environmental remediation process so the property could be redeveloped more quickly if GM permanently leaves Janesville.

A problem, Grassman said, is GM’s uncertainty about the future of the plant, which is listed as a “standby” facility that could reopen if the automaker needs more production capacity.

“With labor negotiations going on this summer, things are definitely uncertain, and accessibility to the property is a real issue,” he said.

The EPA estimates that Janesville has an estimated 144 brownfield sites that potentially threaten public health and hinder economic revitalization efforts.

“Many times, private developers shy away from previously used manufacturing or industrial sites because they are concerned about the costs associated with remediating possible contaminants,” Grassman said “We recognize that these sites, in their current state, don’t lend themselves to private redevelopment, so we took a proactive approach to the situation by applying for these grants to reduce this barrier to future redevelopment.”

Grassman said the grants could be a precursor to federal money to help clean up the sites.

Last updated: 5:41 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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