BISBEE — With an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) $600,000 grant in hand, Cochise County can move ahead with plans to clean up hazardous properties in the county, Sierra Vista, Bisbee and Douglas.
Last January, the county applied for funds through the EPA’s brownfield site program.
Dave Laney, a Certified Hazardous Materials Manager with Stantec, discussed the program with the county Board of Supervisors, as reported by the Herald/Review at the time. He is experienced in managing brownfield assessments and remediation of soil and groundwater contaminated with various toxins from asbestos to lead to petroleum, even explosives.
Laney explained a brownfield site can be a vacant property previously used as a gas station, illegal dumps site, landfill, or even a methamphetamine lab. Buildings with asbestos or lead-based paint as well as any properties where toxic chemicals or pollutants may be present are also considered such sites.
Around 2,600 such properties in the county have been suggested and include underground or leaking underground storage tanks and locations where hazardous materials, including fertilizers, were stored or spilled, he said. Dry cleaning facility locations may also be contaminated.
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.
“Nothing says the property has to be developed,” Laney added.
Properties are eligible for inclusion if the contaminations were not caused by the present owners, he noted.
According to Laney, at least five sites must be assessed with no more than $200,000 spent per site. The grant money must be spent within three years.
Amanda Baillie, county public information officer, in a press release stated, the idea is to take such properties and “transform them from liabilities into community assets.”
“Cochise County is asking property owners, developers, and members of the public to nominate underutilized sites that could be transformed from liabilities into community assets,” she stated.
To aid in the search, the county launched a new website to educate the public about the brownfield program and spur community revitalization, added Baillie.
“The website is also where property owners or citizens can begin the application process to have a site considered for an environmental site assessment,” she continued.
The website contains a wealth of information, including fact sheets, a site assessment guide, brownfield site examples, FAQs, videos, and a site nomination form.
Stantec and the county will manage the grant and establish an inventory, then prioritize brownfield sites for redevelopment, assess existing site conditions and plan for cleanup and reuse.
Cochise County Development Services Director Dan Coxworth stated, “The goal is to transform blighted areas into thriving neighborhoods by helping to remove the barriers to redevelopment,” said. “This grant will help to address unknown site conditions and create shovel ready sites, while also protecting public health and the environment. We are now at the stage where we need to hear from the public about potential sites.”
A community-based advisory committee will also be formed to help with the process and public meetings will be held for citizen input.