The Environmental Protection Agency awarded Kalispell a $1-million Brownfields grant to establish a revolving loan fund aimed at encouraging the redevelopment of contaminated properties.
“The entire Brownfields project is about trying to move a property toward redevelopment and remove hurdles,” Katharine Thompson, Kalispell’s community development manager, said, “where that’s desired and appropriate.”
“Brownfields” refers to abandoned or underused commercial properties where redevelopment may be stymied by environmental contamination – but often those properties exist in the heart of an urban area where real estate might otherwise be quite valuable.
In the case of Kalispell, though Brownfields are located throughout the city, some lay along the former industrial corridor of the railroad tracks extending east to west through the heart of downtown. Making those properties more attractive to potential investors could eventually spur more redevelopment in the city.
“In the long term, it makes sense to develop property where the infrastructure is already in place,” Thompson said.
The most recent Brownfields grant is Kalispell’s third. In 2009, the city won a $400,000 grant, and the following year received a $175,000 grant allowing for property owners to do environmental site assessments to determine whether their land is contaminated with petroleum or other hazardous materials.
“If an owner wants to sell, environmental site assessment is part of due diligence for the buyer,” Thompson said. “It can be expensive.”
For landowners who do find their property to be contaminated, EPA funds are available to identify and quantify the extent of the contamination, then design a clean-up plan. The revolving loan fund Kalispell will set up with the latest grant will offer favorable rates to property owners who want to clean up and redevelop their properties.
“That’s why having the revolving loan fund is so important,” Thompson said. “Without the revolving loan funds, we don’t have any mechanism to jump the next hurdle.”
Kalispell is among five areas of Montana to receive Brownfields grants totaling $4.35 million. Also in the Flathead, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes will receive $200,000 to clean up petroleum-contaminated soil in Elmo along U.S. Highway 93.
Montana Sens. Jon Tester and Max Baucus praised the grant distribution.
“This investment will help Montana communities create jobs turning vacant and even dangerous properties into new businesses, public parks and housing that will help attract even more jobs for year to come,” Baucus said. “This is a smart investment in healthy communities and healthy economies across Montana.”
“These competitive grants are going to mean more good-paying jobs in the area of our state hardest hit by unemployment,” Tester said. “Beyond the immediate work cleaning up these properties, these resources are going to clear the way for more business development across our state.”
In Kalispell, three site assessments for properties are complete so far, and three are currently underway, according to Thompson. She also stressed that the Brownfield assessments are completely voluntary.
“It’s nothing to be afraid of,” Thompson said. “If there is some contamination, really you’re talking about when you have to deal with it, not if.”
She also plans to begin holding community meetings on how citizens would like to see Kalispell redevelop in the future.
“This is an opportunity for us to talk about how does that industrial corridor of Kalispell work for us today,” she said. “What could be better?”
The decision to accept the grant goes before city council June 20. Anyone looking for more information on Brownfields grants can contact Thompson at 406-758-7740.
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