Sustainability: Brownfield Grants

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The United States Environmental Protection Agency has awarded $1.2 million in brownfield grants to three Arizona communities. The three are among 147 communities nationwide receiving funding to assess and clean up historically contaminated properties, known as brownfields, for reuse and development. Phoenix will get $400,000, and will use the money to target five industrial areas for environmental assessments. Rosanne Albright, program manager of the Phoenix Brownfields Program, will tell us more.

TED SIMONS: Tonight's edition of Arizona sustainability looks at the environmental protection agency's awarding of $1.2 million in brownfield grants, to three Arizona communities. The funding includes 400,000 to the City of Phoenix for targeted industrial areas. Rosanne Albright manages the Phoenix brownfield's program and joins us now. Good to have you here.

ROSANNE ALBRIGHT: Thank you.

TED SIMONS: What is a brownfield?

ROSANNE ALBRIGHT: A brownfield is a piece of property that is being overlooked for very many because of the perception of or actual presence of hazardous substances or sometimes petroleum products in the soil or groundwater.

TED SIMONS: You mentioned perception of. Explain that, please.

ROSANNE ALBRIGHT: Sometimes you might be driving along, in the city, and you see a piece of vacant land and maybe it has been vac understood forever and maybe you remember years ago, it used to be a gas station, and you wonder, you know, what happened to that gas station in those tanks. Sometimes, people think that there is contamination, and so they avoid those properties. And all it takes is some investigation to figure out maybe there is no problem on the site.

TED SIMONS: Interesting, as far as the contaminants are concerned, are there certain types of contaminants? Real or perceived?

ROSANNE ALBRIGHT: When you are looking at contaminants, it runs the gambit from contamination that may come from dry cleaning facilities, from industrial operations, even old metal salvage facilities, could be gas stations and things like a landfill.

TED SIMONS: And as far as the epa, this grant program that the epa is involved in, the city gets $400,000, what's that all about?

ROSANNE ALBRIGHT: This particular grant, we are focusing on, what we're calling brownfields to health fields. So what we're doing is we're using the opportunity to find brownfield's properties, and get them cleaned up, and redeveloped for uses that will improve public health. For things like health care facilities, clinics. Mobile or permanent. Community gardens. Urban farms. Food co-ops and hubs, and all those kinds of things that are going to help improve access to healthy food and health care.

TED SIMONS: Of the three Arizona communities, received the grants, Phoenix is one of the three, how many different areas in the City of Phoenix, are targeted.

ROSANNE ALBRIGHT: You know, for this particular grant, we're doing a couple of things, one, is we're doing a city-wide inventory to determine how brownfields are throughout, and then for this health fields' portion we'll be targeting about 11 different areas focused on what we call the neighborhood initiative areas, and areas like garfield area, sunnyslope, redevelopment areas like the rio salado along the banks' area and south Phoenix, and west Phoenix, and areas where there have been lots of industrial uses, but also, they are also plagued with food deserts. Lack of access to healthy food, and they also don't have medical care, so they are medically underserved, as well.

TED SIMONS: The garfield and sunnyslope, the first two, those are mostly known as neighborhoods. Talk to us about the idea of a brownfield being with -- is it as focused as an intersection, a corner? Could it be a few square miles? What are we talking about here?

ROSANNE ALBRIGHT: As we're going to identify these properties, it can be everything from small one-acre lots on a corner. It could be something as large as a former industrial facility. So that's the purpose of us trying to do our inventory first. And we're focusing on those areas because as you know, the city is huge. So, we have got to focus on areas where there is the most need.

TED SIMONS: And the rio Saldo sounds very interesting. At the river bottom, a lot of it is done already down there. If anyone hasn't been there, the hiking and the natural feel of the area has returned. What else needs to be done?

ROSANNE ALBRIGHT: We completed the rio Saldo restoration project, all the great things that you just mentioned, but along the banks of the river, there are still a lot of vacant properties, some of which are landfills and some of which were industrial operations that we need to identify cleanup and redevelop, so there is a lot of work to be done.

TED SIMONS: So assessment, cleaning up the property, and then finding out what kind of redevelopment can occur?

ROSANNE ALBRIGHT: Yes. You know, part of this grant is to identify the sites, do some environmental investigation, and prioritize the sites, and work with the community to identify what kind of needs they would like to see in their community, and, of course, reach out to the prior to sector to bring them in, as well.

TED SIMONS: Is that what these -- the epa, when they initially start this grant, or put off the proposal, is that what they are looking for? I know that in the brownfields, that sort of an idea for Phoenix, but what are they looking for in general?

ROSANNE ALBRIGHT: The epa program is looking for opportunities, basically, to really clean up these facilities contaminated sites and put them back into use. Additionally, we've been looking at redeveloping for commercial retail, housing uses, and our own Phoenix program, we will continue to do that, as well, so this is just an added benefit where we're more focused on the health portion of it.

TED SIMONS: And as far as the grant proposal and what you wrote, obviously, you were awarded with the $400,000, who was involved in the process from the beginning?

ROSANNE ALBRIGHT: You know, we are very fortunate in that we have several partners that helped us to put this grant together. It's a group from St. Luke's health initiative, the Maricopa county Department of Health, Arizona department of health, and international rescue committee, who has quite a few community gardens, and keeping it beautiful, who runs Phoenix renews, and we even brought in students from Arizona State University, and also, the University of Arizona cooperative extension. So, it's a whole great group of stakeholders.

TED SIMONS: And that was, obviously, getting the proposal going, getting the grant going. Now you have got the money and the ability to move forward. Give us a timetable of what's going to occur.

ROSANNE ALBRIGHT: It's a three-year grant, and so, our first step, we get the money in October. Is to complete our inventory. Using our own City of Phoenix funds, we started the inventory, and at first blush, we have got about 7,000 properties that, potentially, could have some environmental issues, so we'll whittle those down to a prioritization process, to, I hope, a manageable number, and we'll reach out to the community in these designated areas to let them know what brownfields is all about, what this project is about. And then start to identify more specific sites and uses.

TED SIMONS: So in three years the construction starts or we should see construction going?

ROSANNE ALBRIGHT: In three years I hope that we have a solid list of properties that have been cleaned up and are ready for development.

TED SIMONS: All right. Rosanne Albright, from the City of Phoenix, good to have you here. Thanks for joining us.

ROSANNE ALBRIGHT: Thank you.

Rosanne Albright: Program Manager of the Phoenix Brownfields Program

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