Nothing can hold a community back quite like environmental contamination.
Hazardous pollutants complicating the expansion, redevelopment or reuse of properties can limit job opportunities, local tax revenues and residential property values, all while damaging the environment.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency calls these properties brownfields.
West Virginia has plenty of brownfields to redevelop, and the agency has awarded communities across the state nearly $3 million to assess and clean up such sites — more than all but three states got in the agency’s fiscal year 2021 brownfields grant funding announced Wednesday.
The funding is to consist of just under $1.5 million for four grant recipients to clean up brownfield sites and $1.5 million for three grant recipients to support brownfield inventories, planning, environmental assessments and community outreach.
The Kanawha County Commission is one of the agency’s brownfields grant recipients for the first time, awarded $600,000 to conduct 18 environmental site assessments.
Assessment activities will focus on the cities of Montgomery, Marmet, Belle, Charleston, South Charleston and St. Albans, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. The agency said priority brownfield sites include a former Union Carbide aboveground tank farm, the former Bartlett Burdette Cox Funeral Home, the historic Union Building, a former Kmart property, the former Montgomery city pool, which includes a fueling location for boat traffic, and the Clendenin Rail Trail Trailhead, which is located on an abandoned railroad right-of-way.
Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper said in an EPA-conducted virtual news conference Wednesday afternoon, which included representatives of all seven grant recipients, that the support to address the county’s brownfield sites can’t end here.
“I would have never agreed to apply for this if it was just getting money to do an assessment,” Carper said. “The sole purpose in this, from my judgment for our community partners, is to do a real assessment, do it in real time and then apply for appropriate funding.”
The grant funding coincides with a Kanawha Valley regional economic development strategic plan to reuse underused and abandoned industrial properties in the valley, especially chemical facility properties along the Kanawha River.
The commission’s coalition partners for the assessment coalition grant are the city of Charleston, the city of South Charleston and the Charleston Area Alliance.
The other grant recipients are the Belomar Regional Council ($600,000 for assessment), the Bluefield Economic Development Authority ($452,292 for cleanup), the Boone County Community Development Corporation ($181,794 for cleanup), the Paden City Development Authority ($500,000 for cleanup), the Region 4 Planning and Development Council ($300,000 for assessment) and the city of Wheeling ($359,953 for cleanup).
The Boone County Community Development Corporation’s grant will be used to clean up the former Lyon Oil Co. property, located at 10 Avenue C, in Madison, which the EPA says is contaminated with various petroleum-based products, including gasoline, diesel fuel and used oil.
“It’s really been a blight on our community for quite some time,” Boone County Community Development Corporation Director Kris Mitchell said. “It’s been used in the trade and making of illegal drugs. It’s visible from our courthouse. It’s also next to a walking trail across a walking bridge from a very large residential community, so it’s very much in the spotlight in our neighborhood.”
Mitchell said she already has been approached by several developers with ideas for the property.
“They’re anxiously awaiting the day I tell them it’s been cleaned up,” Mitchell said, adding that the site has been mentioned as a potential restaurant, distillery or brewery site.
Wheeling’s grant will be used to clean up the 3-acre Robrecht Riverfront property, at 1905 Main St., a former railroad right-of-way dating back to the mid-1800s that the EPA says has been used by trespassers for uncontrolled parking, waterway access, squatting and illegal activities since railroad operations ended in the 1970s.
“For many, many years, [this property] has sort of confounded city leaders for what to do with it,” Wheeling Mayor Glenn Elliott said. “Because it’s been a brownfield, because it’s in the floodplain, it’s been difficult to put back into use.”
The site is contaminated with heavy metals, polychlorinated biphenyls (man-made organic chemicals consisting of carbon, hydrogen and chlorine atoms that the EPA has said have potential carcinogenic, immune and reproductive system effects) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (chemicals that occur naturally in coal, crude oil and gasoline). Some polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons cause cancer, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Elliott said the site along the Ohio River has potential for outdoor recreational use.
The Bluefield Economic Development Authority grant will be used to clean up the 300-400 block of Federal Street, a contiguous city block of parcels in downtown Bluefield that once housed commercial businesses.
The Paden City Development Authority grant will be used to clean up the Paden City Industrial Park, at 330 South First Ave. It’s an 8.6-acre site that, for more than 75 years, was used by the Paden City Pottery and Corning Glass Works companies to make dinnerware. The process of making pottery from clay and applying the glaze led to the site being contaminated with polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and heavy metals, according to the EPA.
The grant awarded to the Region 4 Planning and Development Council, a community and economic development organization serving Fayette, Greenbrier, Nicholas, Pocahontas and Webster counties, will be used to develop 16 environmental site assessments. Priority sites include the former Black Diamond Mining coal-loading facility in Sam Black Church, the former Drennen/Grant retail properties and former East Rainelle Grade School in Rainelle, and the former Mullican Lumber Sawmill in Ronceverte, which is located within a federally designated floodplain.
The grant awarded to the Belomar Regional Council, a Wheeling-based organization of local governments in the upper Ohio River Valley, will be used to develop a prioritized site inventory, conduct 26 environmental site assessments and generate two cleanup plans and two reuse plans. Priority sites include the Wheeling Pittsburgh Steel Building, a vacant 12-story office building in the central business district of Wheeling, the Fostoria Glass site, a former glass company in Moundsville, the vacant Ohio Valley Medical Center campus and the Grow Ohio Valley Food Enterprise Center in Wheeling and the Great Stone Viaduct, a former railroad property in Bellaire, Ohio.
Past recipients have leveraged an average of $20.13 for each brownfields grant dollar and 10.3 jobs per $100,000 of brownfields grant funds expended, the Environmental Protection Agency said, citing grant recipient reporting.
The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection received a $300,000 brownfields assessment grant last year to focus on a 30-mile corridor in the Kanawha River Valley, with priority sites including a 2.5-acre former steel fabrication business in Charleston’s warehouse district, a vacant department store in downtown Charleston and a former gas station in South Charleston.
Only New York, California and Pennsylvania received more than West Virginia in the latest round of brownfields program grant funding.
“We have an opportunity for economic development, [to] clean up the misdeeds of the past and move forward,” Carper said.