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The original item was published from 12/12/2014 3:21:00 PM to 6/8/2015 4:55:37 PM.

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Posted on: December 12, 2014

[ARCHIVED] EPA grant seeks to spark redevelopment on Hwy 182 and near Research Park, bolsters cleanup efforts

The City of Starkville is building momentum with its EPA Brownfields Assessment Grant, an economic redevelopment tool used to detect possible hazardous substances or pollutants that may deter property owners from repurposing aging or abandoned sites.

Starkville was awarded two grants in 2013, each for $200,000: one grant specifically geared toward petroleum based contaminants and the other encompassing a variety of hazardous substances. After assembling a large team of government and community leaders to discuss sites ripe for redevelopment – including local elected officials and city staff; EPA and Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality representatives; and local business stakeholders – two areas have drawn the most attention: a parcel amid a defunct landfill flanking the Thad Cochran Research, Technology and Economic Development Park and a variety of locations on Highway 182.

John Hargraves, the city’s environmental consultant, is currently examining an abandoned service station and used car lot located on the stretch of highway that comprises part of downtown. Hargraves is searching for any hurdle to redevelopment, ranging from buried diesel tanks to cleaning solvents and motor fluids seeping into chalk layers.

“Basically, this grant serves to identify any environmental issues that exist in our community and helps to eliminate those issues, which encourages economic development and redevelopment, especially on sites that may have experienced previous lives,” City Engineer Edward Kemp said.

The onus of abiding by EPA regulations typically falls on property owners, which may discourage redevelopment. This grant seeks to alleviant those concerns.

“This has the potential to help smaller properties be redeveloped,” said Buddy Sanders, Starkville Community Development Director. “Someone who wants to open up, say, a bakery or a mom-and-pop restaurant, they often don't have the money to go out and hire a consultant, yet they can’t break the law. So this grant helps redevelop these former gas stations or body shops or dry cleaners, what have you, which ultimately creates new jobs.”

Kemp said city officials have recently spent a lot of time and energy trying to lure development to the once congested thoroughfare. Since the Highway 82 bypass was completed in 2004, the road has largely morphed into a local transportation corridor. The city, Kemp said, views the area as an extension of downtown. Highway 182, after all, now shares the same form-based code as Main Street – T5 and T6, which calls for a denser, more urban feel as new development occurs. The Brownfields Grant will serve as a piece of a larger puzzle to transition Highway 182 into this “newly defined identity.”

The 30 to 40 acre site amid the defunct landfill next to the Research Park, however, poses a distinct set of challenges and opportunities. Hargraves is currently identifying what contaminants exist and mulling over how to eliminate them – or at least subvert them.

“Dig it up? Haul it off? Cap and vent?” Kemp said. “He’s still analyzing what’s in there to find a solution.”

Ultimately, the cleanup could provide more sites for a Research Park near full capacity or serve as a green-space recreational area, bolstering the existing walking and bike trails near the property. Kemp said the project is in too earlier of a stage to know for sure but suspects the site will ultimately serve both purposes.

Beginning with the grant issuance, the City of Starkville has three years to complete its investigation and present its findings to the EPA. If contamination is sufficient at any given site (a strong chance), the agency will appropriate up to $200,000 per site, up to a maximum of three sites. The city would be required to provide a 20 percent cost share in the form of labor, money, labor, material or services.

“Anytime there is a potential environmentally suspect site, it can be detrimental to the community and adjacent property owners,” Kemp said, “not only from an environmental contamination standpoint, but also from an economic development and redevelopment standpoint – potential property value.”

For more information about the EPA’s Brownfields Program, please visit this link:
http://www.epa.gov/brownfields/grant_info/

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