Panel identifies potential brownfields

COLUMBIA CITY — Columbia City’s committee looking into ways to turn unsightly properties within the city into viable vessels for economic development heard feedback and ideas from the general public Wednesday night.The Columbia City Brownfields Committee held an open forum to give citizens a chance to chime in on potential “brownfields.”According to Jessica Ewing, Communications Manager for Indiana Finance Authority, the United States Environmental Protection Agency “coined the term brownfields as a way to describe typically abandoned properties that were considered or perceived to be dirty or contaminated. This term is opposite of greenfields, a term used to describe undeveloped land.”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. Four members of the committee, Fleck, Coyle, Sexton and Walker, as well as local consultant Lori Shipman were joined at the forum by realtor Greg Fahl, County Councilman Bill Overdeer, Columbia City Fire Chief Tom LaRue, Columbia City Water Department Superintendent Mike Dear, Columbia City Electric Department Superintendent Larry Whetstone, Columbia City Common Council member Nicole Penrod, Ron Richey, Tina Houser, Mark LeMay and Hugh Smith.The panel identified several potential brownfields, including the former Dana plant, the former Blue Bell jeans factory, the South Line Street Corridor, the former Post & Mail building, several former gas stations and vacant land on South Main Street where the Farm Bureau fuel depot used to be.“The vacant land on South Main Street was a surprise to me, and a perfect example of why we needed the input of long-time residents,” said Shipman. “This is a great area of potential because of the rail access and relatively easy access to U.S. 30.”The city was awarded a pair of $200,000 grants for the purpose of assessing potential brownfiels.Shipman said the input received at this week’s forum will provide valuable insight on where to begin.“The plan from here is to compile all of the sites suggested by the public and then begin to whittle it down,” she said.“The overall goal of this project is economic development. We are not in the enforcement business and have no interest in disturbing viable businesses. The objective here is to find places that are vacant, blighted or not being used at their full potential.”Shipman added that the opinion of the general population is not going to be turned away in the future.“We certainly welcome continued input from the community,” she said. “This is an initiative we really need to work together on. At the end of the day, it will improve the overall health and economy of our city. I think that is something we can all get behind.”According to Ewing at the state level, the Indiana Brownfields Program was created in 2005.“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,” Ewing said.“Successful redevelopment is the result of local champions who identify opportunities and embrace partnerships.”