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Polluted Properties Bringing Lots of Opportunity

Brownfields 2It had served an important purpose in 1916. The property near the northwest corner of South Beaver Street and West Phoenix Avenue contained a steam-powered utility company that burned sawdust from the timber mills and converted it into electricity for downtown businesses. Also on this property was an operation that treated power poles and railroad ties.

Fast-forward 90 years and the businesses are gone, but not without a trace. Left behind were 832 tons of contaminated soil, sticky with creosote, the substance used to preserve wood, which contains carcinogens like turpentine.

To make matters worse, the creosote-pitted and polluted parcel was adjacent to the Rio de Flag, where rain and snowmelt could pour over the soil and into the waterway.

Through funding from the Environmental Protection Agency, the City of Flagstaff was able to call on Cardno ATC, a Tempe-based green remediation company, to deal with the dirty dirt.

“That burnt pine and those greasy oils were fermenting in the ground for decades,” said Flagstaff Mayor Jerry Nabours. “About two years ago, workers spent months excavating the site and bringing in fresh dirt.”

Now clean, the property offers possibilities instead of problems.

“The plan we came up includes the installation of flood control structures to regulate the flow of the Rio de Flag, green space like a shade-tree alley or a park, along with the opportunity for commercial and residential development,” said City of Flagstaff Community Design and Redevelopment Manager Karl Eberhard.

The EPA calls untreated properties like these Brownfields. They have the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant or contaminant. And that complicates their future for development or reuse.

As America pushed westward, there are signs of progress recorded in the ground all along Route 66 from past logging operations, automobile dealerships, equipment repair shops and gas stations. Previous property owners may not have been aware of the contaminants or their toxic dangers, but current owners may have trouble when trying to sell the land, build or expand a business, or finance a loan.

But now, $700,000 worth of help has arrived to address contaminated public and private properties in Flagstaff, Winslow, Holbrook and other communities in Coconino and Navajo counties.

With assistance from Cardno ATC Associates, the City of Flagstaff has obtained EPA funding through the Arizona Route 66 Coalition Communities Brownfields Coalition Assessment Grant. Flagstaff, as the lead organization, will administer the funding that can be used to identify and assess environmental conditions at sites along historic Route 66.

“Rural communities in Northern Arizona faced long-term challenges when the Interstate system replaced Route 66 as the primary east-west transportation corridor across Arizona,” said Dave Laney, principal senior/project manager for Cardno ATC. “This grant will provide funds to conduct environmental due diligence work and hazardous materials assessments at numerous Brownfields sites found along the Route 66 corridor that have potential for redevelopment.”

The Brownfields Coalition grant is intended to stimulate local economies by revitalizing neighborhoods, creating jobs, increasing property values and reducing urban sprawl.

“Although challenges arise when renovating and reusing these properties, this is an example of an environmental win-win, where developers get valuable real estate with good access to established infrastructure within the urban core while preserving and protecting open space,” said Laney. “Essentially, it’s the only program that I know of that allows people to use funds other than their own to clean up contamination that may be on their property.”

“This is fantastic!” said Eberhard. “This is a nice chunk of money that is 100 percent free, with no matching fund requirements. The grant can help pay for environmental assessments, conduct property inventories to identify contaminants like asbestos and lead-based paint, and reach out to the public with information. It will help us as a region.“

The EPA grant needs to be allocated before the end of 2015. To find out how to tap into these funds, contact local city or county government officials. Eberhard can be reached at keberhard@flagstaffaz.gov. FBN




Photo caption: Flagstaff Mayor Jerry Nabours calls Aspen Place at The Sawmill “a beautiful project.” Once the site of a lumber operation, the land near Butler Avenue and Sawmill Road had to be cleaned of hazardous materials before it could be developed. Today it supports specialty shops, restaurants and housing.


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