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Bessemer and the greater Birmingham area owe so much to their industrial pasts. And, a recent $300,000 Brownfield Assessment Grant from the US Environmental Protection Agency will help Bessemer conduct community-wide assessments of 21 brownfield sites. The goal, according to EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, is to help “transform contaminated sites into community assets.”
What does this mean?
First, here’s how the EPA defines a brownfield:
“A brownfield is a property for which the expansion, redevelopment, or reuse may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant.”
According to Alabama Department of Environmental Management Director Lance LeFleur, “Alabama’s State Brownfields Program … has cleaned up and redeveloped more than 400 of the 600 brownfield sites in Alabama.”
The first thing that pops into my mind is an old industrial site, but believe it or not that abandoned gas station by the side of the road or an old dry cleaner’s qualifies, too.
Second, the grant gives Bessemer $300,000 to conduct 12 Phase I and 9 Phase II environmental assessments of 21 properties.
Here’s what else Bessemer will be able to do with the funds:
- Develop a plan for cleaning up the areas
- Community engagement and outreach, including six community meetings and distribution of materials related to the project
The assessment will target downtown Bessemer
The primary target area is in downtown Bessmer. There are four specific priority areas, including the following:
- An old 1.5-acre rail site
- The former City Hall building
- A former fire station
- A long-closed furniture manufacturing company
Why this matters
EPA Region 4 administrator Mary S. Walker explained that “[This grant] will provide the city of Bessemer… with resources to clean up contaminated lands and return them to productive use. Overall, Brownfields funding provides communities with an opportunity to transform contaminated sites into community assets that will attract jobs, encourage partnerships and achieve economic benefits.”
According to the EPA, cleanup increases local tax revenue and residential property values.
Here’s a piece we did on brownfields and redevelopment in Birmingham. Did you know The Lyric Birmingham actually was a brownfield site? Just goes to show what a difference a grant like this one can make.