EPA grant to facilitate assessment along Argonne Road in Warsaw and Winona Lake

Thanks to an Environmental Protection Agency grant, the gateway on Argonne Road between the city of Warsaw and town of Winona Lake will get a long-overdue environmental assessment.

It was announced late last week that the Michiana Area Council of Governments (MACOG), along with coalition partners Elkhart, Kosciusko, Marshall and St. Joseph Counties, was selected to receive $600,000 in funding for a regional Brownfield Assessment Coalition Grant to address potentially contaminated properties, according to a news release from MACOG.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler and the White House Executive Director for the Opportunity and Revitalization Council Scott Turner announced a total of 149 communities were selected to receive 151 grant awards totaling $64.6 million in EPA Brownfields funding through the Multipurpose, Assessment and Cleanup (MAC) Grant Programs.

Grants awarded by EPA’s Brownfield Program provide communities with an opportunity to transform contaminated sites into community assets that attract jobs and achieve broader economic development outcomes while taking advantage of existing infrastructure, according to the release.

“MACOG looks forward to building on the brownfield revitalization experience of several of our communities. Our coalition will focus on areas in the region that are most impacted by former industrial facilities, old gas stations, and blighted properties which are often tax delinquent and may pose risks to nearby residents,” said MACOG Executive Director James Turnwald. “This funding is critical for addressing the environmental uncertainty surrounding potentially contaminated properties to get them back on the tax rolls and open them up for redevelopment to promote the efficient use of existing infrastructure, strengthen our downtown cores and community gateways, and reduce development pressure on farmland and greenspace.”

The Brownfields Assessment Coalition Grant awarded to MACOG targets areas in each coalition partner county, including the gateway between Warsaw and Winona Lake.

Funds will be used to conduct Phase I and Phase II environmental site assessments on sites that may be contaminated with hazardous substances, pollutants or petroleum, with at least one priority site in each county. Grant funds also will be used to inventory and prioritize sites, prepare cleanup plans, develop a multi-site reuse plan for the city of Plymouth, prepare site-specific reuse plans, and to conduct community outreach activities.

On Friday, Warsaw Mayor Joe Thallemer said, “We’re very excited. We’ve been working hard with MACOG, and this is a grant for the entire MACOG four-county area, but primarily that Argonne Road brownfield site and several others in the community. We’ve got plenty of work to do with that grant. It’s primarily an assessment grant. And then we’ll have to worry about the clean-up and demolition later, but this gets the whole process started, so we’re really excited about it.”

He said it was too early to tell when the assessment would begin, but the money has been released to MACOG so the assessment will go through them.

Thallemer said that site has needed to be addressed since before he was mayor. 

“It needs fixed. We had the chemical spill issue there last year. It needs to be taken care of. The whole idea is to improve that area so that somebody can come in, redevelop it and get it back on the tax rolls instead of being an environmental burden,” he said.

For a full list of the FY 2019 applicants selected for funding and for more information, visit https://www.epa.gov/brownfields/applicants-selected-fy19-brownfields-multipurpose-assessment-and-cleanup-grants.

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. There are estimated to be more than 450,000 brownfields in the U.S. As of May, under the EPA Brownfields Program 30,153 properties have been assessed, and 86,131 acres of idle land have been made ready for productive use. In addition, communities have been able to use Brownfields grants to leverage 150,120 jobs and more than $28 billion of public and private funding.

In 2018, Congress reauthorized the statutory authority for the Brownfields Program. The reauthorization included changes to the program to expand the list of entities eligible for Brownfields grants, increase the limit of individual Brownfields cleanup grants to $500,000, and add grant authority for Multipurpose grants. These important changes will help communities address and cleanup more complex brownfield sites.