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Salisbury pursues $400,000 grant to find contaminated properties

SALISBURY — After not winning a federal grant to figure out if blighted properties like the former Kesler Mill site are contaminated, the city of Salisbury will try again.

The Brownfield Assessment Grant would provide up to $400,000 to hire scientists and consultants to study particular properties in Salisbury and determine if they are contaminated and what should be done to clean them up. The grant application is due Jan. 22, and the city should know by spring whether it wins.

The assessment grant would pay scientists and consultants to inventory potential sites, research their history, determine the type of contamination and plan for cleanup and redevelopment.

The city will pay nothing to complete the complex application, city planner Trey Cleaton told the Salisbury Planning Board on Tuesday. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which has encouraged the city to reapply, pays for a consultant to help prepare the application, Cleaton said.

The goal of the brownfield program is to resolve environmental issues so properties are more appealing to developers, he said. Development means investment, new jobs and a boost to the tax base, he said.

First, the city must figure out which properties have contamination and how to remove it. Brownfield sites are typically old industrial sites, former gas stations or abandoned dumping grounds for toxic materials, Cleaton said.

“They have large barriers to development, and they are a huge liability to cities and counties across the state and across the United States,” he said.

When the city applied for an assessment grant in 2012, staff held several community meetings where residents came up with a list of 16 potential sites for remediation and redevelopment. The top four include:

• Former Kesler Mill site in the Park Avenue neighborhood

• Former Schaeffer Iron Works site, also in the Park Avenue neighborhood

• Empire Hotel on South Main Street

• Duncan School on Monroe Street

Two planning board members, Bill Wagoner and Thomasina Paige, asked Cleaton for the other properties on the list. Cleaton emphasized that people suspect the properties are  contaminated, but the city will not know for sure until a phase I environmental assessment is complete. A $400,000 grant would pay for 10 phase I studies.

Cleaton said he would provide the full list to the board. He could not be reached by the Post after the meeting.

If the city wins the grant, community involvement will continue, Cleaton said. The EPA looks for a commitment from the community, not just from the local government, when awarding assessment grants and other funding that would pay to clean up contamination.

The EPA also offers revolving loan fund grants for private property owners who want to clean up contamination but have no financing, he said.

“We have problems with several blighted properties that are either contamination or perceived to be contaminated,” Cleaton said. “Both are barriers to development.”

Cleaton will ask City Council to set a public hearing for Jan. 7 to take comment on the assessment grant application.

“The real goal is to get these properties back on the market,” he said. “They’re doing no good just sitting there, blighted.”

Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.

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