Brownfields Grant to Address Contamination and Build Affordable Housing in Flathead County   

The $500,000 grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to Montana West Economic Development Foundation will help clean up and revitalize abandoned and underutilized sites in Kalispell, Evergreen, Whitefish and Columbia Falls

By Denali Sagner
Montana West Economic Development of Kalispell on Dec. 18, 2019. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Thursday announced that the Montana West Economic Development Foundation (MWED) will receive a $500,000 Brownfields Assessment Grant to develop cleanup and reuse plans, carry out environmental site assessments and conduct community engagement activities on nearly two dozen properties across Flathead County.

The grant will focus on a number of brownfield sites — properties that are abandoned or underutilized due to the presence or potential presence of hazardous pollutants — across the Flathead Valley.

“Montana West Economic Development has put together a comprehensive strategy to assess, clean up and restore contaminated properties throughout Flathead County,” EPA Regional Administrator KC Becker said in a Thursday press release. “We look forward to seeing these projects bring new community assets and business opportunities to the residents of Columbia Falls, Evergreen, Kalispell and Whitefish.”

MWED will use the grant to assess, clean and redevelop several properties with the goal of converting them into affordable housing. Candidates for funding include Wisher’s Wrecking Yard in Kalispell, the Evergreen Kmart, Larry’s Post & Pole and the Glacier Gateway School Buildings in Columbia Falls.

“The Flathead Valley has seen tremendous growth in recent years and these EPA Brownfields Assessment funds will help to facilitate redevelopment of blighted and underused areas, taking advantage of existing infrastructure and preserving open space,” Christy Cummings Dawson, MWED president and CEO, said. “This is a great tool for incentivizing redevelopment by taking some of the uncertainty and risk out of the process. We want to build upon the work of the Flathead County Economic Development Authority, the City of Kalispell and others that have done brownfields work locally to foster targeted redevelopment throughout Flathead County.”

The press release outlined the following proposals for the redevelopment of the Flathead County buildings:

Wisher’s Wrecking Yard in the south end of Kalispell is a 22.4-acre property currently used as an auto recycling and salvage yard. The property is surrounded by residential subdivisions and is an ideal location for new housing development following the evaluation of contamination concerns.

The Evergreen Kmart is located on Highway 2 on the south end of Evergreen within the 100-year floodplain. The 8.5-acre property is covered in asphalt and includes a large 92,000 square-foot building with hazardous building materials that are delaying demolition and redevelopment. Once assessed and cleaned up, the site is a prime candidate for more than 40 multi-bedroom rental units for low-income families.

The Glacier Gateway School Buildings in Columbia Falls are vacant former elementary and junior high school buildings with potential reuse as more than 50 new senior housing units and community recreation areas.

Larry’s Post and Pole in Columbia Falls is a 6.7-acre wood treatment and post manufacturing business. Further investigation of the property, including the presence of wood preservatives, pentachlorophenol and penetrating oil and diesel, is needed prior to sale and redevelopment as affordable housing.

Through the Brownfields program, the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) conducted an environmental site assessment of the Whitefish Thrift Haus, which is operated for the benefit of the Soroptimist International of Whitefish, which owns the property. According to a letter from the executive board of the Soroptimist International of Whitefish, the site assessment was conducted to evaluate the property should the organization ever rebuild the store, and there is no plan to build affordable housing on the site. There is also no immediate plan to rebuild the Whitefish Thrift Haus.

The EPA’s award to MWED is among six grants announced on Thursday that total more than $5.7 million for cleanup and revitalization projects across Montana. Other Brownfields grants announced in Montana included $1 million to Sweetgrass Development Corporation in north-central Montana; $500,000 to the Great Falls Development Authority; $1 million to Big Sky Economic Development in Billings; $2.25 million to Great Northern Development Corporation in Glendive; and $460,000 to Beartooth Resource Conservation and Development in Stillwater, Carbon and Big Horn Counties, as well as the Northern Cheyenne and Crow Indian Reservations.

The EPA Brownfields program began in 1995 and has provided nearly $2.37 billion in grants to assess and revitalize contaminated properties to convert them into productive reuse.

Correction: A previous version of this story cited information from an EPA press release that mischaracterized the nature of the redevelopment proposal for the Soroptimist Building in Whitefish.