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The ‘Blight Fighters’

November 13, 2010

Post & Mail photo/Phil Smith — Members of Columbia City’s Brownfields Committee downtown on Friday with consultant Lori Shipman. Pictured left to right are, Allen Tio, Executive Director of the Whitley County Economic Development Corporation, Shipman, City Councilman Don Sexton, Mayor Jim Fleck, Councilman Don Sexton, Clerk-Treasurer Rosie Coyle and Commercial Banker Kevin Snell. Not present are Councilman Roger Seymoure and Outside Operations Manager Jeff Walker.

Columbia City’s Brownfields Committee was formed earlier this year with the express purpose of assessing what can be done to make good use of city business properties that have potential benefit to the town.
And the seven-person panel hopes to get some help from the community in doing so.
Lori Shipman serves as a consultant for the committee. She said a public forum will be held at 7 p.m. Wednesday at City Hall.
A Brownfield is described as real estate that is either abandoned or inactive and which might not be serving its potential.
Such properties also have to have expansion or redevelopment potential and the final ingredient involves complications that make it difficult or impossible for a business to step in to occupy the property, such as the “presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, a contaminant, petroleum, or a petroleum product that poses a risk to human health or the environment.”
Brownfields committees first identify potential sites, assess the steps needed to make the properties both environmentally legal and industrially attractive then set about trying to turn the sites, often eyesores, into viable locations in the community.
“The redevelopment of Brownfield sites benefits communities by rejuvenating neighborhoods, increasing the tax base, mitigating threats to human health and the environment, and reducing blight,” Shipman said.
“Eyesores such as old, abandoned corner gas stations or sprawling, dilapidated factories often can be transformed into productive commercial and industrial parks, vibrant recreation areas, residential use or other needed amenities.”
Columbia City’s committee is made up of Mayor Jim Fleck, City Councilman Don Sexton, City Councilman Roger Seymoure, Clerk-Treasurer Rosie Coyle, Outside Operations Manager Jeff Walker, Economic Development Corporation Director Alan Tio and Redevelopment Commission Member and Commercial Banker Kevin Snell.
According to Shipman, Columbia City applied to the United States Environmental Protection Agency in October of 2009, for funding to assess and investigate unused and under-utilized parcels within the town’s boundaries. She said in May of 2010, the town was told its application was approved.
Columbia City was awarded $400,000 — $200,000 for the assessment of petroleum contaminated sites and $200,000 for the study of hazardous substances.
The committee was formed after word of the grants was received.
The panel was tasked with overseeing and guiding the implementation of the federal grant, “and to leverage other available funds to assist in the redevelopment of Brownfield sites,” Shipman said.
“This is a very brave step for the city and I’m really excited about it,” said Shipman.
According to Shipman, to qualify as a Brownfield, a site cannot be a Superfund Site, or under the scrutiny and jurisdiction of the U.S. government’s EPA.
One such site which has been on the environmental skyline for years, the Wayne Waste and Reclamation site on the east side of the city, would not qualify.
Wayne Waste was one of the granddaddies of all such sites, with about one million gallons of oil-related waste dumped on the 35-acre site, according to the EPA.
The pollution occurred between 1975 and 1980 and the site is still being monitored by the government agency.
Another type of site that doesn’t qualify as a Brownfield is a site considered to be a LUST site (Leaking Underground Storage Tank).
Shipman said the Columbia City group is in the early stages of its endeavor.
The grants pay for assessments and Shipman said three consulting firms were selected by the committee.
One of the first steps will be what’s called an Inventory and Site Prioritization. The committee hopes to get public input on site priorities at the Nov. 17 forum.
“The goal of the forum is to get community input on potentially unused or under-utilized parcels within the city limits that may qualify as Brownfield sites,” Shipman said. “Once an inventory is created, a prioritization of the sites will be made based on the potential for redevelopment.”
The sites will then have to be judged on their eligibility.
“Once a site has been identified, the EPA and/or the Indiana Brownfields Program must agree the site is eligible for participation in the program,” she said. “Essentially, we must ensure that the site is not under any other EPA or IDEM (Indiana Department of Environmental Management) programs.”
For Shipman and the rest of the committee, identifying these sites is the first of many important steps to getting the properties, some day, back on the tax roles.
“In this economic environment, private entities are not inclined to risk the cost of investigations of suspect properties,” Shipman said.
“Without financial support, many of these sites have no prospect for redevelopment. The assessment grant will be the much needed first step in redeveloping Brownfields that will create jobs, lower unemployment, and increase the tax base for the city.”
Shipman said the committee will be taking public input, but will also be looking at properties on South Line Street, downtown Columbia City and West Ellsworth Street.

phil@thepostandmail.com

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