County joins regional effort for brownfield assessment grants

     In an effort to determine how contaminated former industrial and business sites are in Whitley County, the county commissioners have agreed to be part of a regional effort to get a collective $1 million in federal funds for seven area counties.
     The county will be part of Region III-A’s collaborative efforts to get a collective $1 million U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for the 10 counties in and around Region III-A, a regional planning commission and economic development district.
     According to Dave Koenig of Region III-A, only seven counties will opt to take part in the grant application submitted by Region III-A.
     If the grant is approved, the local share of the funds will be used to assess sites for petroleum and other hazardous materials.
     Matt Showalter of Region III-A said he is seeking letters of support from local health departments, grass roots organizations and other government agencies for the grant application.
     The commitment from the commissioners this week was only for a letter of support for the grant.
     The county could apply for a grant on its own for $400,000, but the commissioners felt the county has a better chance of benefitting from the funds if it took part in a group application.
     Columbia City recently received a similar grant for brownfield cleanup and will use its $400,000 grant to focus on the former CF Gomma building.
     The city has interviewed perspective consultant firms to handle the assessment of the property for petroleum and other hazardous material contamination.
     As for the county’s application, the funds would only be used for assessment of property, not cleanup.
     Alan Tió, president of the Whitley County Economic Development Corporation, said the program is “very helpful” to governments so they can have the funds needed to assess land for potentially hazardous chemicals.
     As for cleanup, the county would need to apply for a loan from the Indiana State Revolving Loan Fund, grants or other loans, depending on the situation.
     “It’s case specific,” Tió said of how the county could approach cleanup.
     Koenig said federal funding for cleanup requires certain criteria, including that the land is in public ownership and the person or company responsible for the property is unable to do a cleanup operation.
     He said the county would need to know who the responsible party is for a property before it could apply for funding.
     Assuming the grant is approved, the county would prioritize a list of possible sites based on the best chance for redevelopment.