LEXINGTON, Ky. (9/30/13) – Lexington has been granted $400,000 to help potential property buyers and realtors ensure that the property is hazard-free and environmentally safe.
Brownfields grants, provided by the Environmental Protection Agency, will fund environmental audits of abandoned or idle properties in order to check for environmental contamination, such as petroleum, asbestos, or lead paint.
“The entire program is designed to foster redevelopment of underutilized properties,” said Tom Webb, senior program manager with Lexington's Division of Environmental Policy. “It's kind of unique in that respect because you're spending public dollars on private properties in some instances. But it's a good program. The EPA Brownfield Program has been around for quite awhile now, and a lot of communities have had success with it.”
Webb added that this is Lexington's first Brownfields assessment grant. It is a four-year grant, and Lexington is currently in its third year. He said there are currently 11 properties participating in the program.
“The grant application itself focused largely on the Manchester Street area, Newtown Pike area, and Versailles Road area, because these are older areas of town. We thought that was where the most opportunities would lie,” said Webb. “But it is a community-wide grant, so we can actually assess properties throughout Fayette County.”
Webb specifies that the grant will not actually pay for the redevelopment of participating properties, but will cover the cost of performing environmental site assessments and developing cleanup plans for the properties. Through a competitive process, the City of Lexington selected AMEC to do these assessments, a company that has had great success with Brownfields across the nation.
Bob Perkins is an associate for AMEC Environment and Infrastructure Americas. He said the grants are not thought of as just a way of helping clean up of a property, but in terms of what economic development can come from making them safe.
“What sort of economic development is going to be spurred from this? Because we need jobs, obviously,” said Perkins. “So, we like to say now to the people who are hearing about this grant, use it as an economic development tool to help turn underutilized properties, and maybe those properties that have some contamination, into something that can create value for the community.”
Perkins added that he doesn't want property buyers and realtors to be anxious about doing the assessments. He said the Phase 1 assessments are only a paper survey, and they rarely find anything that triggers regulatory action.
“It's really a way to eliminate environmental risks and concerns for free,” said Perkins.
Although Lexington’s current brownfield assessment grant can’t be used to fund cleanups, the federal EPA does provide an opportunity for non-profit organizations, and city owned properties to apply for cleanup grants each year. Perkins added that a new Kentucky Brownfields law being developed says if potential purchasers have the property inspected through the Brownfields program and develop a cleanup plan authorizing the cabinet to enter the property to work on cleanup, a letter will be issued that will facilitate these property buyers receiving bank loans. Prior to the law, banks would sometimes be reluctant to lend money for contaminated properties.
Perkins added he has one piece of vital advice for potential buyers and realtors.
“Never purchase a piece of property or even lease a piece of property without doing a Phase 1 environmental assessment, and be aware that any Phase 1 environmental assessment done on the property is only good for six months. If we could get that message out to anyone transferring property, many problems would be eliminated,” said Perkins, adding that if the property buyer mistakenly does anything that could be viewed as potentially contaminating the property without this inspection, things can get tricky.
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