PAHOKEE — The city is among 144 communities nationwide, including five in Florida, to which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is providing $54.3 million in grants that will assist in redevelopment of potentially polluted tracts of land.
The grants, announced on April 25, are part of the Brownfields Redevelopment Program, which will give these cities and regional agencies money to conduct environmental assessments and cleanups in locally designated areas.
A $300,000 allocation is designated for several potential hazardous substance and petroleum cleanup projects in Pahokee. “The grant money will be used for environmental research and analysis of areas that possibly meet the ‘Brownfields’ definition,” said City Manager Chandler Williamson. He listed among them the city’s former water plant (which is currently being demolished) and the old Pahokee High School, which is to undergo inspections of the interior and the exterior ground foundation.
“It can also be used for other city-owned and general land areas that can become shovel-ready for economic development,” he said.
“From there, if any environmental concerns are uncovered,” Mr. Williamson explained, “the city then can receive cleanup grant dollars to ensure the property is prepared for redevelopment. Without these two funding streams, areas of the City of Pahokee would possibly be prevented from implementing (plans for) economic development.”
Other nearby cities — Clewiston, Immokalee and Moore Haven — will benefit from a $600,000 grant funneled through the Southwest Florida Regional Planning Council to finance similar projects.
“EPA’s Brownfields Program expands the ability of communities to recycle vacant and abandoned properties for new, productive reuses, using existing infrastructure,” said EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt in announcing the grants. “These grants leverage other public and private investments, and improve local economies through property cleanup and redevelopment.”
Administrator Trey Glenn of the EPA’s Region 4, which includes the Southeastern states of Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North and South Carolina, Tennessee and the sovereign lands of six Native American tribes, said $8.9 million of the total $54.3 million awarded is coming to the Southeast.
“Brownfields Assessment and Cleanup grants target communities that are economically disadvantaged and provide assistance where environmental cleanup and new job opportunities are needed,” he said. “These funds mean a great deal to these communities.”
“Florida has been very successful with our Brownfields Redevelopment Program (BRP) over the years, and our efforts have been strengthened through funding received from EPA Brownfields grants,” Carrie Kruchell, Florida BRP manager and liaison, said, noting that a total of $1.2 million that has been awarded for environmental site assessments in fiscal 2018-19 in the state. “These assessment grants support this important first stage of protecting and preserving our environment, which sets the stage for future redevelopment and reuse.”
The Brownfields Program targets communities that are economically disadvantaged and provides financing and assistance to transform blighted sites into assets that can generate jobs and spur economic growth. A study analyzing 48 brownfields sites found that an estimated $29 million to $97 million in additional tax revenue was generated for local governments in a single year after cleanup. Furthermore, another study found that property values of homes located near brownfields sites that are cleaned up increased by between 5 percent and 15 percent after cleanup.
In addition, communities can use brownfields funding to leverage water infrastructure loans and other financial resources. For example, EPA’s Clean Water State Revolving Fund and Drinking Water State Revolving Fund can be used, under certain conditions, to address the water-quality aspects of brownfield sites and the assessment and construction of drinking-water infrastructure on brownfields, respectively. EPA’s Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act program may also serve as a potential source of long-term, low-cost supplemental financing to fund brownfields project development and implementation activities to address water quality aspects of brownfields.
Pahokee’s manager, Mr. Williamson, concluded, “The wonderful aspect of this grant is it ensures we can provide the very best in environmental protection as we continue to address housing development, plus new business development in the downtown areas of the City of Pahokee.