Staff Writers Joan Van Houten, Taylor Owens: Barry County is one of five Michigan sites that were picked to receive federal grant money for brownfield redevelopment. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced Wednesday that $300,000 will be awarded to the county in an assessment grant.
“The grant encompasses all of Barry County so properties anywhere in the county can be assessed,” Casey Smith, senior project geologist with SME, said. “In the application, Hastings downtown riverfront was listed as a priority for assessment, followed by priority and potential development properties in other Barry County communities.”
This grant is intended to pay for assessments of properties suspected of being contaminated by asbestos, lead and various chemicals, to determine the extent of contamination and the scope of the remediation, Smith said. These grant funds cannot be used for cleanup.
EPA officials said 149 communities across the country were chosen to receive these grants. Of those, five were in Michigan: Barry County, Detroit, Genesee County Land Bank Authority in Flint, Lansing, and Wayne County Brownfield Redevelopment Authority.
“We are targeting these funds to areas that need them the most,” EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said. “Approximately 40 percent of the selected recipients are receiving brownfields grants for the first time, which means we are reaching areas that may previously have been neglected.”
EPA Regional Administrator Cathy Stepp said, “Many communities are ready to move forward with redevelopment, they just lack the funding to get started.
“Our brownfield grants can jump-start the process and provide much-needed support to begin the assessment and cleanup process.”
Part of the grant awarded to Barry County will be used to determine whether any environmental contamination exists at properties in downtown Hastings and whether cleanup is required before the sites can be redeveloped, Stepp said.
The county’s plans for the sites include new parks with connections to Hasting’s Riverwalk trail and affordable new housing constructed with support from other federal and state grants, EPA officials noted.
According to the EPA, the money will be divided into two parts, $200,000 for hazardous substances, and $100,000 for petroleum for the Hastings Manufacturing and former E.W. Bill Landfill priority sites in the downtown Hastings Riverfront area.
The funds will go toward site assessments and the preparation of cleanup plans for the areas.
The application was submitted in late January, and Barry County representatives were notified Wednesday that their application was among five in Michigan that were selected.
Smith said he and Dan King, Hastings community development director, had worked closely for several months to prepare the application.
The next step will be for the county to send out requests for proposals for services that will include engineering, material assessment and environmental consultants, he said.
After assessments are completed, Smith said Michigan has a brownfield cleanup grant that could be considered. The chances of receiving that grant will be much higher if an assessment has already been done and data has been collected, he pointed out.
“But that's a ways into the future,” Smith said. “There's still a lot of work to be done on the assessment side of things.”
The federal brownfield grant funds will be available in October.