BISBEE — With the recent award of a $600,000 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Brownfield Site Assessment Program, Cochise County will begin to assess properties which may be contaminated.

Cochise County Development director Dan Coxworth said Thursday no sites have been definitively identified, but there are a number of suspected properties in the county and in the cities of Sierra Vista, Bisbee and Douglas. The cities and county formed a coalition to obtain the grant funding.

“For the grant application, we identified sites with suspicion of contamination, but until an assessment is conducted, we won’t know for sure,” he added.

Properties which are abandoned or underutilized are known as “brownfields,” where reuse is complicated by actual or perceived environmental contamination of hazardous substances, petroleum or mine-scarred land, according to the EPA.

The properties may have been gas stations, illegal dump sites, former landfills, even methamphetamine labs. Buildings with asbestos or lead-based paint are also considered brownfields.

Back in January, a public meeting was held in Sierra Vista with Dave Laney, a certified hazardous materials manager with Stantec. He has managed projects for brownfield assessments and remediations of soil and groundwater contaminated with various toxins, from asbestos to lead to petroleum, even explosives.

There were 1,157 sites with possible contamination due to leaks from underground storage tanks, like former gas stations, Laney reported at the meeting. Initial assessments of vacant or underutilized parcels with environmental records totaled 1,337 possible sites.

They are properties, which if properly assessed for the extent of contamination, could be revitalized for economic development or for open spaces, parks and green spaces, though there is no requirement to develop the properties after cleanup, Laney said.

Stantec will create a comprehensive list of regional sites, prioritizing revitalization opportunities.

“The grant for $600,000 will pay Stantec to conduct Phase One and Phase Two environmental assessments conducted by qualified staff,” Coxworth said. “Stantec will also assist with filing reports required by the EPA for use of federal funds.”

Once the process is developed to assess and remediate brownfield sites, the coalition will help facilitate the public-private partnerships necessary to complete redevelopment efforts.

“This is a competitive grant, with only 33 percent of applications selected by the EPA,” Coxworth continued. “We are very excited about the opportunity to use these funds to assess properties that have the greatest potential for redevelopment and economic impact on our economy.”

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