Pa. counties to get EPA funds

July 03, 2002|By Zlati Meyer | Zlati Meyer,KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

BRISTOL BOROUGH, Pa. - Against a backdrop of quaint quad homes built on a once-rusting industrial site, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Christine Todd Whitman recently announced $14.6 million in brownfield grants to help redevelop 80 such sites across the country, including one in the borough.

"For every dollar of federal money invested, we leverage $2.50 in private-sector investment," she said. "For every acre of brownfield redeveloped, we save 4.5 acres of greenfield. That's the kind of investment we want."

A brownfield, as defined by the EPA, is a property that could face redevelopment difficulty because of concern that a hazardous material or contaminant is or could be on the site. The agency enables communities to clean up and reuse the polluted tracts.

President Bush signed legislation this year in Conshohocken, Pa., that promotes cleaning up old industrial sites, and his 2003 budget request raises EPA brownfield funds from $98 million to $200 million. Whitman recently announced $21.5 million in funding for blighted areas in 17 states.

In Pennsylvania, Gov. Mark Schweiker has set aside $5 million for the state's new Brownfields for Housing initiative, which will benefit all counties in the state, except Philadelphia. Bucks County is receiving $150,000, as will Duquesne, Allegheny County. Ambridge Borough, Beaver County and the Lakewood (N.J.) Redevelopment Corp. will get $200,000 each, and Johnstown, Cambria County, will also receive money.

Whitman; U.S. Rep James C. Greenwood, a Pennsylvania Republican; state Sen. Tommy Tomlinson, a Bucks County Republican; and other state, county and borough officials toured the Riverfront North property, which is being transformed into office buildings.

Robert White, county Redevelopment Authority executive director, narrated as they trod through mud and rocks, passing hundreds of chunks of concrete and exposed metal girders twisted in every direction. Then, they went through an oasis of 56 beige homes, prettied with brass outdoor lamps, colorful lawn furniture and arched windows.

Pennsylvania is home to 1,085 brownfields and an additional 320 that are still being remediated. More than one-third are in the southeastern part of the state: Bucks County has 88; Chester County, 90; Delaware County, 57; Montgomery County, 113; Philadelphia County, 77.

According to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, the most recent draft inventory listed more than 1,300 brownfields statewide.

Greenwood explained that 14,000 people worked in Bristol until the steel mill closed after World War II. The property was later used by manufacturer Kaiser Corp., a zinc processor and soap company Dial Inc.

To entice developers to transform once-tainted land into corporate campuses, shopping malls or residential neighborhoods, some of the liability is removed. In turn, these no-longer-blighted tracts usher in throngs of people who patronize nearby businesses.

In addition to the 13 acres used for Villas at Riverview, the remaining 35 will be redeveloped into office complexes, White said. Developer Michael G. O'Neill of Conshohocken-based Preferred Real Estate Investments expects to start construction this summer, with his buildings to offer 800 to 1,000 new jobs.

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