EPA grants will help clean up brownfields in Bethel

Valley News Business Writer
Published: 5/7/2020 9:47:04 PM
Modified: 5/7/2020 9:46:53 PM

BETHEL — Much of the business world and everyday life has stopped during the coronavirus pandemic. But grants from the Environmental Protection Agency to two Upper Valley economic development bodies anticipate better days ahead.

With an eye toward seeing three sites in the Upper Valley safe for redevelopment, the EPA has granted funds from its brownfields program to clean up an eyesore in Bethel to help a key manufacturer expand. And another grant will assess what it would require to clean up an anchor redevelopment project in Springfield, Vt., as well as a shuttered dry cleaning plant across the street from the American Precision Museum in Windsor.

The EPA grants include $500,000 to White River Junction-based Green Mountain Economic Development Corp. for the Bethel cleanup project and $300,000 to Ascutney-based Southern Windsor County Regional Planning Commission for the Springfield and Windsor assessment projects.

The two grants are part of a round of 155 grants totaling $65.6 million for brownfield funding to communities and tribes across the country in areas designated as underserved or economically disadvantaged. GMEDC and SWCRPC were the only two approved for EPA funding out of seven applicants in Vermont. None of the six applicants in New Hampshire were approved, including one from the town of Newport.

Dennis Deziel, New England regional administrator for the EPA, acknowledged the timing of the grants during a conference call Thursday, as states and applicants are “facing unprecedented operational challenges” because of COVID-19.

“Blighted properties may seem like the least of their worries right now, but if some amount of federal funding can help stimulate local jobs, investment and reuse, then these federal brownfields dollars will be well-timed,” he said.

The $500,000 GMEDC “cleanup grant” will go toward remediating the former Valley Motor Sales lot on Pleasant Street in Bethel, which is adjacent to a GW Plastics manufacturing plant.

The site was a gas station before serving as an auto dealership for 85 years before closing in 2018.

The site is contaminated with polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and PCBs commingled with petroleum; GW Plastics will kick in additional funding toward the cleanup and remove “the vacant dealership structure and hazardous materials embedded in the site, for future expansion as our business grows,” Brenan Riehl, chief executive of GW Plastics, said via email.

“In the meantime, we will repurpose the property to use it as parking and greenspace,” he said.

The project is similar to a $200,000 brownfield rehabilitation project that GMEDC helped spearhead at Farm-Way in Bradford, Vt., four years ago when the outdoor apparel store acquired the adjacent former Twin State Fertilizer property.

The former auto dealership is not only an eyesore in Bethel, but is passed by students walking to the town’s elementary and middle school campus a few hundred yards up Pleasant Street.

“This will be an important part of Bethel’s redevelopment,” said Bob Haynes, executive director of GMEDC. “It will improve the tax base and improve the neighborhood. There are a lot of good things happening in the town and this is one of them.”

The $300,000 “assessment grant” to the Southern Windsor County commission will go toward assessing the asbestos problem at the former Park Street School in downtown Springfield that is now being redeveloped into the Black River Innovation Campus, a multimillion-dollar project and coworking space that is meant to draw high-tech startups and tech workers to what was once known as Precision Valley.

“It’s going to need a considerable amount of asbestos mitigation,” said Tom Kennedy, executive director of SWCRPC, who added the EPA money will also be used for designing a “corrective action plan” to remove the asbestos.

A portion of the grant will also go toward assessing various pollutants that remain at the site of Roger’s Fabricare, a former dry cleaner on Maple Street in Windsor that provided drop-off and pickup service at locations in Lebanon and Norwich but closed in 2018.

The EPA said 2020 funding for New England to date totals $7.2 million in grants to 16 communities in Vermont, Massachusetts, Maine and Connecticut.

Normally the announcement of the EPA remediation program grants would occur for the cameras at one of the brownfield sites, but the EPA’s Deziel said that wasn’t possible under current pandemic circumstances.

“We like to make these announcements out in the community,” Deziel said. “I do love pulling out the big checks at press conferences, but don’t worry. We’ll get that (check) out ni the mail as soon as we can.”

Reach John Lippman at jlippman@vnews.com.

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