Clinton is 1 of 7 SC Brownfields Money Recipients
Brownfields - possibly contaminated sites - will be identified with goal of reuse through grant to city
The sun was hot, and the traffic was loud; but nobody went home unhappy.
“There’s not a bad day to receive a check,” enthused Rick Osbon, mayor of Aiken, standing in front of the MS Bailey Municipal Center in Clinton last Wednesday. Osbon’s city was one of seven SC recipients of EPA money to clean up contaminated site - in all, the state is getting $2.2 million and Clinton as a first-time grant recipient played host to the event. The Regional Director EPA attended - the Southeast is getting $9 million for this work. Over the life of the federal brownfields eradication project, federal money and state expertise has leveraged these grants into $25 billion in local communities’ investment. For South Carolina alone, that leverage accounts for 14,050 new jobs.
“Land is a top priority,” said Trey Glenn, Region 4 Administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency.
“This is one of DHEC’s good new programs,” said Donald L. Siron, who directs land and water management for the SC Department of Health and Environment Control.
In addition to Clinton and Aiken, grant recipients for 2018 are Catawba Regional Council of Governments, Greenville, Greenwood, Pickens, and the Pelzer Heritage Commission.
Siron said the new federal Superfund Law will allow communities more flexibility in environmental clean-ups. There have been 74 total brownfields grant awards in South Carolina since 1997. DHEC has worked with 663 clean-up partners, and been responsible for 250 acres turning from contaminated to re-useable.
Each community and organization representative described their local work.
Osbon said Aiken ($300,000 grant) will involve private landowners in economic development projects involving Opportunity Zones (a bill proposed by U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, R-Charleston) and historic properties.
Randy Imler, executive director of the Catawba COG ($600,000), said his area is rural and rapidly urbanizing, but not all communities are enjoying success. He said the money will address “some of the leftover contamination of the 18th and 19th centuries economy.”
Amy Doyle, the vice mayor pro-tem of Greenville, said, “There is no other form of government more concerned about clean-ups than local government. We have 10 floors in our city hall, and people on all 10 floors are working on cleaning up the Reedy River.”
Brownfields can stymie communities, she said, and Greenville ($300,000) is going to use its sixth feder-state grant to move forward its Westside community. A contaminated site is going to become a 60-acre urban park that will cost $3 million to develop; with a housing component attached, that park will generate $300 million in private investment, she said.
Clinton is going to make an inventory of the places that need to be cleaned up, Mayor Bob McLean said. Clinton is getting its first grant ($300,000), and McLean said he looks at the money as a “you’ve got to start somewhere” opportunity.
Getting contaminated sites - which can range from an old gas station to a huge mill site - cleaned up will “add to our tax base, produce jobs, enhance the environment, and protect our citizens,” McLean said.
“I’m a brownfields champion,” said Steffanie Dorn, finance director for the City of Greenwood ($200,000 grant). The city is going to turn a contaminated foundry into an environmentally sound urban park. “DHEC is wonderful to work with,” Dorn said. “In 2004 our housing authority purchased the foundry. It is near two mill villages, and a third these communities‘ residents are children. In 2006 they demolished the buildings. It‘s two and a half miles to the nearest greenspace so the children (without a close-by park) want to explore the foundry.
“This will give them a park.”
Dorn said Greenwood can accomplish this project through its Capital Projects Sales Tax and a state revolving fund that finances environmental clean-ups.
In Pelzer ($200,000 grant), brownfields money will address an abandoned textile mill site, said Westley Cox of the Pelzer Heritage Commission. Cardno, an environmental assessment and clean-up firm, will partner with local officials to determine how to make this an economic development site, Cox said.
In Pickens - “when you come, not if you come but when,” Mayor David Owens said - the Doodle Trail is designated for a second trailhead using brownfields money. Pickens ($300,000 grant) has partnered with Easley on a trail; and on the Pickens side, a 2-acre site was cleared two years ago to have a replica train depot, a playground and rain garden.
Owens asked McLean about a train whistle sounding in the background, whether it was a spur line or a main line. McLean said it is a main line - as people in Clinton are well acquainted with trains at all hours of the day and night.
Owens’ interest was clear, as his city’s popular train uses an abandoned rail line.
Now, there is more land that can be affiliated with the trail.
Owens said, “We’ll never be a Swamp Rabbit Trail, but we are working. There is a 100-acre plant site. We have the opportunity to take the site over, but not without an assessment.”
These seven projects are among just 144 communities that were awarded 221 grants totaling $54.3 million, nationwide, in the latest brownfields awards (39% of the projects submitted were funded).
This federal money administered by the state will provide communities with funding to assess, clean up and redevelop underutilized properties while protecting public health and the environment, EPA said in a news release.
The Brownfields Program targets communities that are economically disadvantaged and provides funding and assistance to transform blighted sites into assets that can generate jobs and spur economic growth. A study analyzing 48 brownfields sites found that an estimated $29 million to $97 million in additional tax revenue was generated for local governments in a single year after cleanup. This is two to seven times more than the $12.4 million EPA contributed to the cleanup of these brownfield sites. Another study found that property values of homes located near brownfields sites that are cleaned up increased between 5 and 15 percent after cleanup.
“EPA’s Brownfields Program expands the ability of communities to recycle vacant and abandoned properties for new, productive reuses, using existing infrastructure," said EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. "These grants leverage other public and private investments and improve local economies through property cleanup and redevelopment.”