US EPA awards $70,000 to assess riverbank in Chester, WV, for co - WBOY - Clarksburg, Morgantown: News, Sports, Weather

US EPA awards $70,000 to assess riverbank in Chester, WV, for contaminants

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Local leaders say a newly awarded $70,000 grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to assess and prepare a remediation plan for a riverfront property in Chester removes a major hurdle to its redevelopment.

Pat Ford, executive director of the Business Development Corporation of the Northern Panhandle, said the community looks at the former Taylor, Smith & Taylor site as two distinct parcels, one of which has already been remediated and is ready for reuse.

Site location consultants, however, see it as one big parcel that hasn't been fully remediated, he said.

Until that perception changes, he said banks consider the site too risky to invest in.

“Ideally, we would market the clean, level portion as one parcel and the riverbank as a separate parcel that has not been assessed and remediated,” he said. “But the fact of the matter is, they see it as one parcel. We need to remediate riverbank – if we don't, it's going to be viewed as dirty and it will be difficult, if not impossible, to get financing. And if we can't get financing, we're not going to get a prospect.”

In the grant application, Ford told USEPA the cleanup “could yield tangible results of (more than) $2 million in site reinvestment and more than 100 permanent jobs while eliminating a quantified community health threat that has existed since 1989” at the former pottery property.

He said the award “is great news for Chester and Hancock County, and is the first key step to the redevelopment of the riverbank of the former TS&T site, which would provide a huge opportunity to develop one of the most scenic riverbanks in the Ohio River Valley.”

“The prospects that we have been showing it to most recently are looking at (it) for more of a mixed-use manufacturing/office type campus,” Ford said. “They want access to the river for aesthetic purposes. We have also been showing the property to prospects who want the river for functional purposes – they would like to put in a dock.”

He said the USEPA grant, which will pay for site assessment, characterization and remedial planning work, was awarded through a nationally competitive special project funding opportunity.

“West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection and USEPA see we are redeveloping our brownfields and that we've been able to bring business and industry to our brownfield sites,” he said. “Because of that track record, WVDEP endorsed our (fund) request. We've been working with them to identify sites, clean them up and get business back in here.”

Pat Kirby, executive director of the Northern West Virginia Brownfields Assistance Center, said local leaders were prepared to move on the project, which gave the riverbank project the edge it needed to win the grant. The BDC was “able to immediately illustrate the tangible economic and community impacts of the redevelopment of the TS&T site,” he said.

Brownfields are abandoned or under-utilized properties that haven't been redeveloped due to real or perceived environmental barriers.

Patricia A. Hickman, interim director of the Division of Land Restoration for the WV Department of Environmental Protection, said the state “looks forward to working with the (BDC)” on the redevelopment project. “We hope that together we can create a positive impact within the community of Chester by remediating this site and returning it to productive use,” she added.

BDC Chairman Bill D'Alesio said the group appreciates the “personal advocacy” Hickman, WVDEP, Kirby and the Hancock County commission undertook in conjunction with the grant process.

“Hancock County has a rich industrial heritage, especially with former industrial sites located along the Ohio River that winds its way through the Northern Panhandle,” D'Alesio said. “We are grateful for the special funding award by the (USEPA) that continues to fuel the process of returning our brownfield sites to productive use once again.”

Chester Mayor Larry Forsythe said uncertainty “is the biggest barrier to the development of brownfield sites, and that's where EPA brownfield grants make all the difference.”

“Without the brownfields program, polluted land is bypassed for redevelopment and in some cases taken out of the site inventory.”

"This is just one more phase in the site preparation of the former TS&T site,” Hancock County Commissioner Jeff Davis said, speaking on behalf of fellow commissioners Dan Greathouse and Mike Swartzmiller. "We are very supportive of this outstanding program that really helps make our communities stronger, better and more attractive for development. We appreciate the chance to apply for this funding, and we look forward to the tremendous opportunity to effectively use these assessment dollars to produce tangible economic and environmental results.”

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